Smithfield Herald

July 11, 2014

More veterans going to Johnston County for help

Johnston County’s veterans services department is seeing a growing number of veterans. Johnston County commissioners, at their July meeting, also heard that two of Johnston’s senior service centers will be receiving more state dollars.

The Johnston County Veterans Services Office is helping a growing number of veterans.

On Monday, Robert Boyette, director of Veterans Services, gave County Commissioners an annual update on his office.

In fiscal year 2012-13, the office filed 285 claims on behalf of veterans, Boyette noted in his report. In 2013-14, that number increased about 50 percent to 425 claims. Overall, the office helped about 1,800 veterans last year, according to the report.

Boyette said last year’s claims increase likely stemmed from soldiers returning from overseas deployment and being discharged from the military. His office, meanwhile, has a budget of about $120,000, which pays him and two support staff, one full time and one part-time.

In June, the state closed a veterans’ office in Garner, Boyette said. “The impact on us is a large increase of veterans coming to the Smithfield office,” he told commissioners. Boyette said he doesn’t have numbers yet on how many more, but he said significantly more have been coming in the last few weeks.

Boyette said he doesn’t know if he will need more staff yet, but he plans to keep track of requests in the coming months.

Commissioner Allen Mims asked whether Boyette was receiving complaints from veterans about the U.S. Veterans Administration, which is mired in scandal stemming from long waits for medical care.

Boyette said he’s gotten a lot of questions, but overall, he’s seen improvement from the VA. His office helps veterans register with the VA and get assigned a doctor. Having a specific doctor helps keeps veterans from slipping through the system, he said.

“Sometimes it’s taken a while, but it has gotten a lot better in the last two or three months,” Boyette said.

Senior services

Two of Johnston’s senior centers will be receiving more state dollars.

The state has named the new Harrison Center for Active Aging in Selma a multipurpose center, said Neal Davis, executive director of Community & Senior Services. The new designation comes with more state and federal funding, about $4,000 a year.

The state also gave Clayton’s multipurpose senior center its “excellence” designation, making the center eligible for about $12,000 extra each year from state and federal governments.

“The review is done by a state-appointed team of experts from all levels of experience and backgrounds, and they come in and look at what we’ve been doing,” Davis said.

Clayton is the first Johnston County senior center to earn the “excellence” designation, the highest level. “We’re very excited and proud of that,” Davis said.

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