HAMILTON, Mont. - An independently-run veterans service center in Hamilton wants to make its newly-hired lone employee a Ravalli County employee.
The move stems from a problem last winter, when a former claims agent took files home from the center, before he was arrested, then acquitted on charges of threatening President Obama.
The files were returned to the center. But under V.A. rules, Dan Rachell was within the law to take the claims of veterans who had turned power of attorney over to him.
The Valley Veterans Service Center sees county jurisdiction as a way to avoid future problems, and to better serve vets.
Valley Veterans Service Center leaders told county commissioners they want to put their newly-hired veterans service officer, Janet Brewster, under the county umbrella.
Board president Bill Jette said, "The POAs (Power of Attorney) that the veterans sign actually belong to the county veteran service office, not to an individual person."
If the service officer moved on, the files would stay put.
Veterans said the county would have no additional expense, because Brewster is paid from a $78,000 mill levy.
"She'd be paid out of the mill levy that was approved by voters," said Jette.
The move would allow the center to join the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers.
Board member Ron Toomer told county commissioners Tuesday that joining would give veterans service officers faster certification.
"They'll be certified in 90 days," said Toomer, "versus 180 to one year, like the last one. They'll have three to six national training sessions per year, versus none now."
Toomer said the V.A. puts $34 million into Ravalli County through services to veterans every year.
He said there are 5,500 veterans in Ravalli County. We learned that doesn't count the spouses and children of vets.
Veterans' advocates said the needs are increasing every year.
Toomer said the Veterans Service Center has 200 to 300 client visits every month. Brewster will have her hands full.
Ravalli County commissioners did not make a decision to put Brewster under the county, but they formed a committee with veterans to review it.
"We'll roll up our sleeves and start getting to work on building a model that's going to work well," said commission Chair Greg Chilctott.
The committee will meet in September.