Supervisors urge continued expansion of veterans' services at county library branches
March 19, 2014The initial steps to utilize County Library branches for veterans' services programs have been deemed successful.
A 4-0 San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote March 11, with Ron Roberts in Washington, DC, directed the county's Chief Administrative Officer to continue support for expanding County Library locations for veterans services programs and to identify eligible local volunteers to assist the veterans.
"This is a good start, but we're not done and there is more work to do," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. "There will be several additional locations."
San Diego County is home to more than 240,000 veterans, which is the second-largest population in the state and the third-largest in the nation. The county established the Veterans Services Office to assist veterans in obtaining local, state, and federal benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Services offered include benefits counseling, claims preparation and submission, claims follow-up, appeals, and advocacy with other veterans services organizations throughout the United States. County Veterans Services Officers (CVSOs) meet with veterans to provide services.
"Many of the veterans and their families reside in rural areas of the county," Jacob said.
"I think it's important that they have the ability to access that information," said Supervisor Bill Horn.
Jim Schafer, a service officer with The American Legion's Alvin Myo Dunn Post 365 in Vista, thinks having veterans services programs in libraries will make those programs more easily accessible for those who need them.
"I think this will be wonderful for remote areas, a big step in helping North County veterans. As to the outlying areas, I am all for it," he said. "Those are the places least likely to be in the loop unless there is a central location for help."
Based on his experiences providing veterans service counseling, Schafer cites needs for expanding access in Fallbrook, Valley Center, and Vista, all of which have County Library branches.
Prior to the use of County Library branches for veterans' services programs, the CVSOs provided services at nine locations including the County Operations Center, the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office, and the Veterans Administration San Diego healthcare system. Some of those nine locations are staffed full-time by CVSOs while others are staffed only one day a week. Jacob had been asked why none of the locations were in East County, and the question resulted in her efforts to increase the number of locations.
The option of staffing a location on a part-time basis led to the concept of using County Library branches for services office locations.
"I think that this is a great way," said Supervisor Dave Roberts.
"Almost all if not all our libraries have community rooms," Jacob said.
On Oct. 22 the county supervisors voted 5-0 to direct the Chief Administrative Officer to explore the feasibility of utilizing the County Library system to expand services to the county's veteran population and to report back to the supervisors within 120 days.
Some incorporated cities contract with the County of San Diego for library services, so the County Library system includes branches in cities as well as unincorporated communities. In January 2014 a veterans services program at the El Cajon branch was initiated.
"It's a pilot," said County Library director Jose Aponte.
"I think that was an important addition to the libraries," Horn said.
Hildie Kraus, branch director at the El Cajon County Library, is pleased with the program. "We are very happy to host the veterans service office at the El Cajon Library. There are many veterans and active-duty military in our area," she said.
"I personally recommended two individuals to the service, both Navy veterans in their 90s. They were very grateful to have this resource accessible to them," Kraus said. "We are very happy to include veterans in the services we provide to honor the sacrifices military personnel have made. I feel very, very strongly about this."
Juan Rangel is the trained veterans service officer manning the El Cajon Library office for two half-days monthly.
Aponte expects programs at the Julian, Pine Valley, and Ramona libraries to be implemented within the next year.
"The particulars are really with the service providers," he said.
Aponte explained that the availability of volunteers would determine the branches selected for the program's future expansion.
"I'm excited about the collaboration," Aponte said noting that information and education are objectives of the library system. "It's a good partner," he said.
Aponte cited an English and citizenship program as a past example of the development of a program utilizing County Library branches.
"These initiatives start and in five, seven, eight years they become institutional," he said.
Aponte noted the importance of volunteers in implementing County Library programs. "We only have 270 people working in 33 libraries and two bookmobiles, but we have in excess of a thousand volunteers," he said.