Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission vs. a reality check

When I first arrived in Dayton in 1983, fresh out of the Army on TDRL (Temporary Disabled Retirement List) I had to touch base with several local organizations to take care of benefits and other issues related to my military status.

Back then- I went to the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission- and wasted my time, with an overworked case officer who took some notes and said he’d get back to me in about 6 months. I also went to the VA- the old Brown Hospital, which reminded me of a horror flick. The docs I had to see didn’t speak much English that I could understand, and their exam was brutal. So far, 2 swings and 2 strikes. Last stop was my congressman’s office, where I got to work with the young Dan Foley- who decided to violate all rules on privacy in my case, for which he was given a scolding by Bear Monita who was Tony Hall’s local office chief at the time.

Three swings- three strikes.

The only place I received any kind of support was at Wright State in the Veterans office- run by the very sweet Mary Thomas. It was kind of the haven for vets- even though the office was smaller than a shoebox. After 18 months on TDRL, I was ready to go back to active duty- and instead chose to stay in school and opted to join the Army Reserve.

I kind of followed all kinds of scandals centered around the Veterans Service Commission – like an exorbitant rent deal with someone in the local power base. There were other issues, including the not too long ago revelation that our Commission seems to like to be extra stingy with the money going to vets in need. Every year we turn away a lot of vets, and return money to the county general fund.

The fact that the current offices are in the old St. Elizabeth, not the Job Center or the County Building, makes me scratch my head. Why are they paying rent to a private company, instead of being at the VA- the center of all Veterans Services in Montgomery County? In fact the organizations who appoint these members- all used to have full-time service officers at the VA to help represent vets in getting benefits, before a budget cut about 3 years ago cut back the hours.

Almost 10 years ago, a few fellow paratroopers and I, started an organization to support veteran-owned business. In all our time, and all our meetings, we had very little interaction with the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission.

So when I read the first article the Dayton Daily news that a bunch of the yahoos running this bureaucratic nightmare were trying to boot the newly appointed Ashley Webb off the board for questioning the legality of the Commission having 11 members instead of 5 like EVERY OTHER COUNTY in the state, and that this was another juicy part-time patronage type job- paying about $9 k a year for 2 meetings a month, I knew immediately who was on the right side of the law. Even though Ashley and I are on opposite sides of most things political, in my dealings with this West Point grad, I’ve never had anything but extremely professional interactions. Full disclosure, my firm, The Next Wave, had done some work for his company.

I spent some time trying to figure out who the rest of the commissioners were. Looking through LinkedIn- Facebook, most of them don’t show any kind of special qualifications to take on the responsibilities of taking care of veterans in our community. Not any big surprise in Montgomery County where it’s usually about who you know, not, what you know.

How we got to have 11 commissioners is itself, a story that can only come out of a political cesspool. It seems the Veterans Commission wanted to blow money on its own building, but the County Commission didn’t think that was a good idea. Instead of having the debate- and showing that the Vets Commission was failing most vets, that we expect better and then cleaning house, they went and had the statehouse pass a law allowing the County Commission to double plus one the size of the commission so cronies could put the kibosh on the Vets cockamamie plan. Sort of like putting the address of all 4 casinos into the constitutional amendment- and then realizing that it was a bad idea and having to fudge it later. Face it- Ohio Politics is the theater of the absurd.

Somehow, Ashley Webb, a West Point grad, who showed up on the local political scene at the same time as the Tea Party, was put on the commission by one of the local service organization chapters. It doesn’t help that he ran against Debbie Lieberman in the last election- a member of the organization that has oversight on the six puppets who were still on the commission illegally.

The conditions of the puppet-majorities appointment was a budget over $2.5 mill- which hadn’t happened since 2011. Webb uncovered the oversight- tries to right the wrong- and ends up “the bad guy” by the clown puppet posse? Not in my book, the guy is a hero.

Questions arise about the money paid to these County Commission-created patronage jobs- do the appointees owe the money back. They say no. In reality, the place to point the finger is at the County. It’s their job to manage the funds- and the positions and follow the law, especially since they created it in the first place. But, remember, this is the same organization that put the Rev. Raleigh Trammell, a convicted welfare cheat, in charge of a welfare program and shed all responsibility.

The real question is what does the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission do? Nine people on the payroll- with 11 overseeing it. The actual numbers of veterans assisted is incredibly low- seeing how they’ve repeatedly turned down most requests- and seem to have a revolving door of vets who utilize their service- not doing much outreach at all (see mention of my vet biz org above).

I checked in with Dayton VA Chief Glenn Costie about housing the commission at the VA- the epicenter of Veterans’ services in the region- and much closer to the geographic center of Montgomery County, and he’s pretty sure he can put together a reasonable rental agreement on his campus. Seeing that every veteran who is eligible for services by the Commission- is also eligible for some care at the VA, it makes sense to put them together.

UPDATE

4 May 2015 from Director Costie: “We would probably not charge rent….it would happen as part of an MOU or enhanced use lease like we do for the post office and the credit union…that in exchange for in-kind services….we would provide the space ”

Every other county in the region has to maintain a transportation service as part of their charter- to ferry vets to the VA. MCVSC doesn’t have to do that since they farm it out to RTA. The real question is, what are they doing that requires 9 staff in the first place, and why can’t they find places to spend the money on veterans?

This veteran can tell you there are significant needs within the veteran fraternity and it’s sad that this organization has been asleep at the wheel for years.

Ashley Webb may be the first step in the direction that this organization needs to take. The question is, as the board gets reformulated, who will be the next steps?

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