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Davison County office to serve Sanborn County veterans, starting in 2021
Daily Republic - 12/23/2020
Dec. 22—Davison County is taking on responsibility for veterans service duties to residents of Sanborn County.
The Davison County Commission unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Sanborn County during its meeting on Tuesday. Sanborn County, which had been contracting with Beadle County for veterans services, will pay Davison County$7,500 annually for the work. The Sanborn County Commission approved approaching Davison during a meeting last week.
Davison County Veterans Service Officer Craig Bennett estimates that there are about 200 veterans in Sanborn County that are eligible for benefits from the veterans service office, and another 40 that might not currently be in the system.
To start, Bennett said he plans on being in Woonsocket once a week. He said he already has regular interactions with veterans in Artesian, Letcher and Forestburg under the current arrangement.
"There are probably people that have been underserved by the fact that they don't know what's available to them," Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode said.
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The veterans service officer structure varies greatly by county. Eight of the state's 66 counties, including Sanborn, contract services with a neighboring county. Another four counties — Buffalo, Custer, Harding and Ziebach — have vacant veteran service jobs. Many small counties that do have their own employee are only available once a week or less.
The commission also approved trying to hire a part-time administrative assistant for the Davison County office to help with the likely increase in workload.
Bennett said he would like to see the part-time person available from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. three days a week, likely Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
It was estimated that the $7,500 payment would help cover about half of the cost of a part-time assistant employee for the veterans service office. The county will advertise for the position in coming weeks. Having another person, Bennett said, would allow him to do more training and conduct more veteran outreach.
Davison County previously had an administrative assistant position for the veterans office, but that position eventually moved departments to meet another need.
Some of the commissioners have shown a preference for Mitchell's office becoming a regional hub for veterans services because Bennett has had success tracking down benefits, and Davison County has an accessible building and office.
"When we get one, we can locate another one," Commissioner John Claggett said. "We will be able to get more growth once we're able to show success."
Commissioner Denny Kiner said the county is "taking care of" about 130 veterans who live outside Davison County, including some from out of state.
"We're showing success right now," he said.
Bode said it's good to have veterans coming from other counties to Davison County for services, but she wanted the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees the VSOs in each county, to understand what larger counties could provide on a regional basis. That should be bolstered by additional funding, she said, even if Bennett said he was willing to take on the extra work.
"It's not right that they do that to us," she said. "It's something that has to be dealt with."
Bennett, a 22-year U.S. Navy veteran and a former Veterans Administration regional employee, was hired by Davison County in early 2018.
"I like what I do and I love serving people," Bennett said. "My goal is to provide good, quality service and I think the bulk of those people coming here will get that."
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