Published September 11, 2023
Photography by Simply American
As the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners works to set the county budget for fiscal year 24, an opportunity came up to expand services to the county’s veterans.
The Ottawa County Department of Veteran Affairs (OCDVA) was first established in 2011 to serve the veterans of the county and their families. The department is currently staffed by a team of four, who each work one day per week, at a total cost of $40,000 to the county.
In 2022, the team handled approximately 1500 contacts/phone calls with veterans, and roughly 632 appointments with Veteran Service Officers.
The OCDVA has previously operated with a budget of $183,994. These funds come from a few different sources, including $80,000 from the County Service Fund grant for medical transportation, $40,000 from the State Trust Fund for veteran emergency needs, and $63,000 in county appropriations to support the emergency grant program of the Veteran Affairs Committee. The annual amount changes based on grant funding.
Ottawa County Veterans are often referred to, or choose to go to, neighboring Muskegon and Kent Counties for services. Approximately 10,884 veterans live in Muskegon County, which has a millage of 0.077 for Veteran Services that was approved by 84% of voters. Their last budget was $501,773. Kent County is currently home to approximately 28,175 veterans, and they also had a millage pass by 74%. Their millage rate is 0.05 and their operating budget is $1,360,000.
Ottawa County does not have a millage for veteran services, nor is one being proposed. The county is currently home to 12,310 veterans. While veterans account for only 4.1% of the county’s population, they also account for 24% of the county’s suicides. Commissioners hope to learn more from the neighboring counties to best meet the needs of the veteran community in Ottawa.
In 2022–23, the County Service Fund grant received by the county was $80,371. The OCDVA was recently awarded an increased grant of $161,501. The grant is intended to assist counties in establishing a County Department of Veteran Affairs, support new initiatives that connect veterans to federal benefits, and/or enhance or expand existing veteran service operations to connect veterans to their benefits.
At the August 10 Finance and Administration meeting, board members discussed the proposal to hire a full-time director for the OCDVA to create a strategic plan to increase outreach to veterans, provide greater development of strategic partnerships of government and private entities serving veterans, and ensure our veterans receive the services they need.
At the August 21 Finance and Administration meeting, more discussion was held on what the best use of the additional grant funds may be. Commissioners discussed whether or not current veteran needs are being met, concerns of whether hiring a director is helping address needs or unnecessarily increasing infrastructure costs, and what happens if they advertise services and more veterans come in, but the county doesn’t have the resources to follow through on services.
The opinions expressed within this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the positions and beliefs of Simply American or its affiliates.