Veterans Service Officer Jay Scott attended the public meeting between county commissioners and Governor Jared Polis on Oct. 17 to inform the governor on the state of veterans services in Otero County and the neighboring regions.
Scott lauded the Colorado Division of Military and Veterans Affairs for providing $17.3 million in funding for Otero County Veterans Services in FY2018. He said that even with a conservative estimate of how many times those dollars turned over locally, it was a good chunk of money for valley veterans.
Although Scott was appreciative of funding for veterans services, he also highlighted the challenges veterans of Southeast Colorado face. Housing and transportation are the two greatest issues that veterans of Southeastern Colorado face, Scott said.
"Indigent, under the bridge veterans: We have them," Scott said. "People don't see them but they are here and we need to figure out some way to get them into, at least, temporary housing long enough for them to get their feet under them."
Scott indicated that transportation is sorely needed by veterans in communities of Southern Colorado as well. He said that if one doesn't have a vehicle, they had better have a good pair of walking shoes, because there is no mass transit system to speak of in the valley.
"We are working on that," said Scott. "One of my contemporaries at the DHS [Department of Human Services] and myself, we got together and we put together a little program: We're utilizing a couple of grants to ensure that, not only veterans, but some of the non-veteran walking people have, at least, rides to their medical appointments."
Through the county human and veteran service departments, Scott said they are at least able to help veterans make it to medical appointments in Pueblo on a timely manner.
La Junta Mayor Jeffri Pruyn asked Scott if Bustang transportation services have helped veterans seeking transport any. Scott said the program is helpful, but that veterans need more timely services. Through Scott's ride program, veterans have drivers who are there specifically for their needs. The Bustang service operates on set schedules and hours, Scott said, which makes it hard for veterans who might have long waiting periods between being dropped off by Bustang services and their actual scheduled appointments.
Local American Legion posts applied and received the Veterans Trust Fund Grant in the last few years, Scott said, and every year they are receiving more funding. They started around $7,000 and this year received $18,000. Veterans Services never has enough money or drivers, Scott lamented.
Scott described himself as a "mother goose" of sorts for Veteran Service Officers of the region. He told Polis that he is employed by the county as a full-time Veteran Service Officer, while post service officers in surrounding areas are relegated to part-time positions due to a lack of funding.
He acknowledged again that state legislature has increased funding to local county veterans services for the purpose of transportation and said that he thinks they will continue to do so. Scott said that if the state would consider giving veteran service officers a pay raise, he asks that they would specify that the monies being given to local veteran services be earmarked for service officers so that they can more effectively reach out to veterans in their area.
Of approximately 1,700 veterans in Otero County, Scott said he has reached 700 of them.
"There's a lot of them out there I'm not reaching," said Scott. "I'm working on that. But I'm not the only county that has this problem.
"Again, (Veterans Affairs). I do realize (that is a) federal thing, but they also are metro-centric. If you need things done you need to go to Colorado Springs or Denver and we just kind of don't exist out here.
"But they say that squeaking the wheel gets the grease, I've been doing a lot of squeaking so hopefully we're doing some good."