Veterans split on future of aid provider

He was so good, he’s sparked a heated debate.

Clallam County veterans assistant Dick Stumbaugh’s work connecting veterans with the myriad different services was held in high regard by both sides in an April 21 debate in a Clallam County commissioner work session.

The topic was how Stumbaugh would be replaced.

Stumbaugh is retiring April 30. He gets paid for 16 hours of work a week, although any veteran would say he works double that. His position is funded by the Veteran’s Relief Fund, which is assessed through property taxes.

As he leaves, Stumbaugh’s hope is that the county will merge his half-time position with another half-time position opening up at Serenity House of Clallam County. That position is to coordinate re-entry of convicted felons at risk of being homeless back into the county.

The Clallam County commissioners must decide before May whether to restaff the position at 16 hours a week or create the new position through Serenity House.

The county could combine some veteran funding with state-level offender re-entry dollars to create a full-time position dedicated to both projects.

The types of veterans’ service, including assistance with rent, utilities, food and clothes, would go unchanged. However, where veterans go for help, who they talk to and that person’s availability would change.

The idea of being paired with offenders is not appealing to veterans and was the source of some veterans’ dissent. Others simply felt veterans should have a dedicated service agent.

“To be looped in with the offender re-entry program was offensive to most veterans attending our April 9 meeting,” said Clallam Veteran’s Association president Bill Minor of the association’s membership. “But, at the time, a proposal hadn’t been formally made, so once the board understood what the agreement entailed during a special meeting on April 16, they voted to recommend approval.”

But some veterans feel excluded from the board’s decision or the county’s dialogue.

“I, as an individual, feel that there is a rush to make this new position while there are options still to be looked over and veterans to include in the decision-making process,” Terry Roth of Port Angeles said against the proposal. “It could be that the program presented today is the best one on the table, but may veterans have a great deal of pride and going to Serenity House is not what they think they deserve, so we need more information before backing the proposal.”

Jeff Reyes, with the Veterans Conservation Corps but speaking as an individual, said he believes the position should be exclusively serving veterans.

“To expand services, we can line up veteran volunteers to add more hours to the 16 from the county position,” Reyes said. “I’m not sure if someone split between law enforcement expertise and veteran service expertise is going to give both parties the best help.”

Kathy Wahto, director of Serenity House, said her agency didn’t seek the partnership but believes it will expand veteran services in Clallam County.

“We have a network of service resource centers throughout the county and to hire a veteran to work with veterans in (Clallam’s) three cities for 40 hours a week will increase the county’s ability to service vulnerable veterans,” Wahto said. “Veterans coming in for help from this person, just like they would with Mr. Stumbaugh, would not be sharing a space or a waiting room with ex-offenders re-entering Clallam County.”

Wahto said everything would stay the same in the system other than where veterans go for help and the number of hours that help would be available.

The new employee’s obligation for offender re-entry would consist of connecting an inmate at risk of being homeless with homeless services while that person is in prison, not afterward when the person’s monitoring is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections.

As a rule, Serenity does not deal with convicted sex offenders, Wahto said in response to concerns related to specific offenders.

“I see this as an exciting way to have an expanded service base for veterans across the county,” Minor said, indicating additional support for veterans is the solution, not where the office is. “We are getting new veterans all the time from Iraq and with an expanding list of people who have served for the country, there will likely be more need and I see this proposal as the best way to handle that demand.”

Commissioner Steve Tharinger spoke in favor of the new program while Commissioner Mike Chapman had reservations about taking the position out of the county’s auspices.

“I think we have a good program that works,” Chapman said. “Plus we will have to change county policy if we chose to go the other route because we have identified this as a county staffed position. I’m hesitant to take this out of the commissioners’ office and combine it with another service.”

Commissioner Mike Doherty, who had been absent during previous discussions of the position, said he needed a week to review the input and information.

The item likely will be on the April 28 work session agenda, soon to be available at www.

Reyes said there will be a forum to discuss options for the position at 1 p.m., Thursday, April 24, at the Veterans Center, 308 S. Francis St., Port Angeles.

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