County becomes go-to place for veterans in region seeking assistance
The other day, William Joyce, director of Veterans Services in Genesee County, assisted yet another veteran from outside the county with a Veterans Administration issue.
The veteran had been to the VA in Erie County and complained to a fellow veteran about his difficulties and that veteran told him, "Go see Bill Joyce in Genesee County."
The word is getting around, Joyce told members of the Genesee County Legislature, that Joyce does something other Veterans Services officers in other counties don't do: His job.
"In some counties the VSO doesn't want to do his job," Joyce said. "They just want to sit in the director's chair. They don't want to run a full-service office."
In the past year, the Genesee County office had 5,917 contacts with veterans and provided 7,324 acts of client service. While most of the veterans who come through the office are from Genesee County, a growing percentage are from neighboring counties.
"I don't care where you come from," Joyce said. "I'm here to serve veterans and their families."
A trained and experienced VSO is an asset to veterans dealing with an overburdened and bureaucratic Veterans Administration and other government agencies.
In his department review, Joyce reported that his office has sent 1,540 original compensation/pension claims to the regional office for adjudication. The Buffalo Regional Office currently has a backlog of 2,750 claims and there are more than 650,000 nationally.
Of those, 225,000 have been pending for more than 125 days. The average case in Buffalo has been pending for 135 days. The regional goal is to reduce that wait time to 125 days.
Since May, Joyce reported, 75 cases have been resolved that had been pending for more than a year.
Locally, the office also helped 151 Genesee County veterans apply for property tax exemptions.
The office also works with the Department of Social Services on benefits eligibility for veterans and this can sometimes help reduce the county cost for Medicaid benefits. He said of 92 referrals, 63 veterans or widows qualified for federal VA benefits.
A mentorship program is also helping veterans find jobs and stay out of trouble. Since 2009, 43 veterans have gone through the county's Veterans Treatment Court with no repeat offenders.
The local office is also assisting veterans and their families with interment arrangements at the new veterans cemetery in Pembroke. Construction of the cemetery begins this fall.
With all this activity, legislators asked Joyce how he keeps up. He said if given the choice between adding another VSO or keeping his secretary, he would keep his secretary. She does half the work, he said, and when she's gone, it falls on him to answer phones, make appointments, and complete some paperwork.
"I can't do without a secretary," he said, while acknowledging county funds are tight so he doesn't expect any additional help.