CLEARFIELD – Area veterans are dissatisfied with a reduction in staff in the Clearfield County Veteran’s Affairs office, and raised their concerns at Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting.
The county previously employed a full-time administrative assistant in the VA’s office to assist Director Betina Nicklas until that position was vacated in August of 2018.
Amid a budget crisis, the commissioners used an employee to provide “swing” coverage for the first part of this year as a cost-saving measure. The chief clerk also assisted, as-needed.
The commissioners only allocated funds for a part-time, Secretary II position in the VA’s office in the current budget; this position has been filled and the new employee started Monday.
On Tuesday John Rowles, a Vietnam War veteran and current Clearfield Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1785 commander, spoke to the commissioners on behalf of area veterans.
“We are here today to express our concern and dissatisfaction about your decision,” he said. “… This has always been a full-time position, and it needs to remain a full-time position.”
He said so long as the VA’s office is without a full-time administrative assistant, veterans will experience paperwork delays, especially in regards to submission of claims for disabilities.
“There are some 10,000 veterans in Clearfield County,” Rowles said, adding “… they need the help they deserve and shouldn’t suffer because of a budget crisis.”
Rowles requested the commissioners to reconsider their decision. Commissioner John A. Sobel, chair, then explained they’d met with veterans who were OK with a part-time replacement in the “short run.”
John E. DeLaney, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, also spoke, saying he performs similar work as Nicklas, though he’s not paid and doesn’t have her authority to sign off on veterans’ paperwork.
He said when he’s with a client and the phone rings or someone else comes in, it creates a distraction and results in confusion. He said Nicklas really needs someone full-time to take calls, record messages and to greet visitors.
Following the meeting, Commissioner Tony Scotto said he understood the veterans’ frustrations but felt the VA’s office will run more smoothly now with a “fully-dedicated” part-time assistant.
He also reminded: “We have to consider the costs and it’s important for us to stay our course with the budget. We not only have to consider our veterans, but our taxpayers, as well.”
Scotto called attention to the fact that as of Monday, the county’s inmate population was 214 with 188 in Clearfield County Jail, 23 in Jefferson County Jail and three in other facilities.
“This has been a tremendous burden for our taxpayers,” he said, reiterating that “… We have to keep our costs down and stay on course.”
Scotto said the commissioners are asking veterans to give the part-time position a chance because they’re confident in Nicklas’ ability to train the new employee to provide the best service.