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Porter County's 13,332 veterans may be getting full-time help in meeting their needs

Times - 10/1/2018

Sept. 30--VALPARAISO -- Porter County has the seventh largest number of veterans of any county in the state at 13,332.

But it is one of just a few counties that does not have a full-time director overseeing its veteran services office, according to part-time Director Jim Atkinson.

That could be changing at the start of next year.

The Porter County Council will be asked to approve a reorganization of the office that will make Atkinson full time, he said.

The proposal would do away with a part-time services officer, leaving one part-time assistant and a full-time office manager, Atkinson said.

The office assists veterans and their family members in applying and receiving "all rightful veterans' state and federal entitlements," according to its online description.

The office primarily focuses on assisting veterans with claims for disability compensation; claims for pensions; applications for Veterans Health Administration health care; retrieving military documents such as discharge papers, service records and medical records; and filing eligibility benefits for funerals and burials.

The office also helps surviving spouses obtain benefits in the wake of service people dying from service-related illnesses and injury, Atkinson said.

Atkinson said the office is currently handling 800 active claims.

The county's veteran population has been shrinking by about 200 each year since 2008 as a result of the aging group, he said. But it is predicted to begin rising again next year with new generations of young service people.

The more recent conflicts around the world are keeping the demand strong for services, said Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North.

"We have more and more veterans coming out of those wars who need our services," he said.

The proposed reorganization is being presented to the County Council because it involves changes in job positions, Biggs said. The change could wind up saving taxpayers money because of the eliminated position.

The new full-time director position will have the additional cost of benefits, he said.

The reorganization is expected to be in place at the start of next year, Atkinson said.

The change will not impact the service locations, despite chatter to the contrary on social media, Biggs said. Offices will remain open in Valparaiso and Portage.

The Portage office eventually will be moved into the 12,000-square-foot building that will be constructed just southeast of the existing county complex, Biggs said. The new building should be complete by the end of next year, he said.

The Portage location will be closed for a few weeks beginning next week to allow for training, Atkinson said. But it will reopen.

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