CLEARFIELD – A deputy director will be sought to process veterans’ claims in the Clearfield County Veterans Affairs Office.
On Tuesday the county’s Salary Board voted, 3-1, to create the position at a rate of $17 per hour, not to exceed 1,000 hours per year.
Commissioners John A. Sobel, chairman, Tony Scotto and Mark B. McCracken voted in favor. Controller Tom Adamson cast the nay vote.
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.
Veterans have recently expressed their dissatisfaction in the reduction of staffing, as well as concerns that it’d slow down processing paperwork, especially for veterans’ disability claims.
Last week, Sobel said local veterans had a very valid concern, and there has been an additional “hurdle” of having Nicklas on active duty quite a bit.
He said they plan to support her service with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and the commissioners believed hiring a deputy to fill in, in her absence will help resolve veterans’ concerns.
When Sobel called for a motion Tuesday, Adamson interrupted and requested the board receive more input. He said he’d spoken with his fellow veterans, and they don’t believe this is the resolution.
Adamson said he was told there was only one or two people who could fill this position, adding he personally didn’t believe the commissioners will fill it.
He said veterans would like to see the office to be staffed once again with a full-time administrative assistant, who would complete necessary training.
“… They don’t desire this part-time deputy director,” Adamson said. “… I would like for you to talk to the veterans, like I did. There should be more input on what you’ll do to appease the veterans.”
Scotto said he reached out to representatives at Fort Indiantown Gap about the accreditation process, which can be completed online.
He said they’re seeking a veteran with a current accreditation, but this isn’t a requirement of the position, and the county can help someone obtain it.
“The main reason we’re doing this is to get those claims moving,” Scotto said. “A secretary can take a call and answer some questions but can’t process a claim.
“Since we’re having a lot of people saying their claims aren’t being looked at and processed, I think this is a good solution and will help the process even better.”
Scotto and Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said the commissioners are very proud of Nicklas and her service to her country, but she’s out a number of weeks throughout the year.
McCracken said even with the full-time administrative assistant, claims weren’t able to be processed in Nicklas’ absence and calls could only be made to check on the status of existing claims.
McCracken said about two years ago, he suggested the possibility of having another employee in the VA’s office as-needed on a part-time basis.
He said last summer when Nicklas was away for several weeks, they had volunteers come fill in from the American Legion. He said he thought this deputy position was the next “logical” step.
McCracken said he was in favor of advertising the position and seeing if they could find someone. He said he believed there are veterans out there who would like to be part of the process.
“This will add to Betina’s effectiveness and the job she does,” he said. “Because when she comes back from her service, she won’t be faced with a stack of phone messages to get claims started.”
McCracken added that: “This person will be able to get the claims started and probably even filed, then she will only have to follow up on it.”
Sobel said he shared the same position as Scotto and McCracken, and in the future, they could possibly look at increasing the hours of the VA’s part-time administrative assistant.