Vets, commissioners talk vet services at cracker barrel - KOTA Territory News

Vets, commissioners talk vet services at cracker barrel

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The South Dakota Legislature is through 24 days of the 38-day session.

Veterans issues have received a fair amount of attention thus far, including a bill that would restore state funding to counties to take care of their vets.

That was the focus of some audience members at Saturday afternoon's cracker barrel in Piedmont.

The bill addresses veterans' services officers in the state.
 
"We didn't give [our officer] up, even when the state cut funding two years ago," said Meade County commissioner Linda Rausch.
 
But she admitted the county did have to consolidate two jobs when the Legislature turned off the tap.
 
"So we went from a full-time veterans' services officer to -- it's still a full-time person, but they have other duties," Rausch said.

Those new responsibilities -- emergency management duties -- make the officer less accessible to vets.
 
"I could go up to the courthouse and sit down and visit with Mr. [Jerry] Lolley, who was the veterans' services officer, and we'd visit about Legion stuff and veterans stuff," said Rod Martens, an American Legion member and registered lobbyist for the group.
 
But he can't do that anymore.

That's where House Bill 1249 aims to help out.
 
"Basically, the bill that just passed the house appropriates approximately $168,000 to the various counties," said Rep. Dean Wink, R-29, a member of the appropriations committee. "I think it'll probably pass the Senate and be signed by the governor."
 
It'll pay for 25 percent of the salary of a veterans services officer, back to the original funding level of two years ago.

That likely won't change how Meade County's massive veteran population gets services -- "I'm not going to be able to add a whole position with only 25 percent of a person funded," Rausch said -- but it will allow commissioners to focus county money elsewhere.
 
"It's going to replace some things we had to give up," said Rausch. "It may mean extra loads of gravel on some county roads, things like that."

The new funding mechanism will be different from the old one, in that counties will have to apply for the money instead of getting it automatically.

But lawmakers say there should be enough in the bill so no counties that want the funds will be denied.

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