CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners discussed concerns over staffing in the Veterans Affairs office Tuesday and the possibility of creating a part-time deputy director position.
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 March 25.
Last week, veterans expressed their dissatisfaction in the reduction of staffing, as well as concerns that it’d slow down processing paperwork, especially for veterans’ disability claims.
“This has caused a great deal of concern on the part of our local veterans in Clearfield County,” said Commissioner John A. Sobel, chairman on Tuesday. “… That is a very valid concern.”
Sobel said there has also been another “hurdle” in the recent past that has come up in discussions between the commissioners and groups of veterans.
He said VA Director Betina Nicklas serves in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and her “active duty obligations” have increased “quite a bit” over the past year.
“Now, that is a testament to how much our military values her duty and service,” Sobel expressed. “It’s something we want and intend to support, and that’s very important.”
Sobel said an idea of possibly creating a part-time VA deputy director of claims was brought forth, and they believe it warrants further exploration and consideration.
He said this employee would primarily be called in to process claims during periods when Nicklas is on active duty. He noted historically, the VA’s secretary has never been certified to process claims.
“They accumulate and when Betina comes back, she finds a stack of claims to be processed on her desk,” Sobel said. “So, she’s behind the eight-ball the minute she’s back in her civilian clothing.”
Commissioners Tony Scotto and Mark B. McCracken concurred. Scotto said: “We do need to address this issue …. so that our veterans have the services and coverage they deserve.
“They proudly fought for our country, now it’s our turn to assist them.” McCracken added it was important for the county to designate the staff to assist as-needed with this service.
Like Sobel, he said the secretary has never been certified to process claims paperwork, and he felt this was a pretty good compromise to address the concerns of local veterans.
McCracken said by having a deputy, they’d also be able to check the status of veterans’ existing claims. “… I think this will give our veterans better service than they’ve ever had.”
Controller Tom Adamson said being a veteran himself, he fully understands the concerns the veterans have. He said this matter would need to go before the salary board, but he wants more input.
“… It’s really gone downhill ever since the administrative assistant wasn’t replaced,” he said, noting, “and that was a full-time position.”
Adamson said though any additional staffing would help the veterans’ concerns, he wants to hear it from them. “It’s just too bad they had to come to a meeting for there to be any action.”
Sobel said they’ll continue to look into the possibility of creating the part-time deputy director position, and further discussion and or action would take place at a meeting of the salary board.