COUNCIL BLUFFS — The motto at the Pottawattamie County Veterans Affairs Office is "Providing veterans with a hand up not a handout," but officials say that a space pinch makes following this mantra more difficult.
Veterans Affairs Administrator Darlene McMartin and Veterans Affairs Commissioners Robert Jorgensen and Phil Killion met with the Pottawattamie County Board this week to discuss the office's needs.
McMartin said offerings have had to be scaled back because of space limitations in the Pottawattamie County Annex Building.
Meetings are no longer held in the building, there is not enough room for handicapped veterans to move around inside the building, and the restrooms are inadequate, they said.
"What you (the board) do for us is above and beyond what other counties do," McMartin said. "We do appreciate it, but as we have changed our focus to match state code, our requirements are changing. We will not be able to meet the needs of our future vets, which are going to be different than our older vets have."
McMartin said Pottawattamie County has 8,000 veterans and Veterans Affairs has the names of 10,000 people served in its database (the office also works with spouses of deceased veterans).
Veterans are provided $37.3 million in the county through injury compensation and pension, vocational rehabilitation, education, home remodeling and other programs. In addition, $18.8 million is spent yearly for health care.
And those numbers don't include retirement benefits that come from the Defense Department.
McMartin said veterans returning from current wars are suffering from 15 different disabilities rather than the typical one or two disabilities prevalent after the Vietnam War.
"Vietnam vets were typically dealing with a hearing loss and/or a disability related to Agent Orange," she said. "Today's veterans are dealing with not only hearing loss, but PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) up to traumatic brain injuries."
Killion said today's veterans also are more aware about the services are available for them, unlike World War II and Vietnam veterans.
"The young veteran is my concern," Jorgensen said.
Services such as group therapy, which could provide an opportunity for younger veterans to meet with and talk about problems with older veterans who have experienced the same issues, can't be held because there is no conference room.
Veterans Affairs space studies say at least 2,470 square feet of office space is needed, far more than its current 1,600 square feet.
The board agreed to look into the issue.
One idea was a Lakin-like campus for veterans that would include Veterans Affairs as well as new facilities for the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Lakin Campus in Council Bluffs provides one-stop access for human services.
County Board member Loren Knauss said he liked the idea. "It could provide services more than just a social group," he said. "It could be a complex that can support veterans not just financially, but emotionally."
However, County Board members and the Veterans Affairs commissioners said focusing on a Veterans Affairs facility first is crucial.
The County Board tasked McMartin, the commissioners and Building and Grounds Director Jim Yochum to continue to research the issue and identify specific needs in a new facility.