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Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Veterans will fight closing of office

Money-saving proposal targeting Lawrence draws cool response

February 21, 2002

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"Veterans all day, every day."

That's the motto at Lawrence's office of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs. But local officials and veterans are worried that "every day" may soon come only once a week in Lawrence. The two-person Lawrence office, at 745 Vt., is targeted for closure in the state's 2003 recommended budget.

A second office in the southeast Kansas town of Independence also would be closed under the proposal. And KCVA officials said their nursing home programs also are threatened by cuts.

Lawrence veterans said they would fight to keep the office here open.

"Every time they run short on a budget, they try to cut veterans benefits," said Don Dalquest, vice commander of Lawrence's American Legion post. "We've got to fight against that."

But Duane Goossen, the state's budget director, said the pain is being spread around to higher education and social services.

"They're not singled out," he said of veterans. "Every single agency has these kind of issues."

The Lawrence office last year served 3,737 veterans from eight counties. The two staff members help veterans do such tasks as fill out paperwork to receive treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals, claim GI Bill benefits and give a little direction to down-on-their-luck veterans.

With the state facing drastic budget shortfalls, Goossen said each agency was asked to submit a list of items it could sacrifice. KCVA said it could lose two offices, he said. The Division of Budget chose the two that seemed to cause the "least disruption." Since there are other offices in northeast Kansas in Kansas City, Leavenworth and Topeka the Lawrence office was targeted.

The closures would save the state $70,000 a year, Goossen said. KCVA would be left with $2.6 million to run its remaining dozen veterans service centers.

KCVA Executive Director Stoney Wages said no final decisions have been made and phoned the Lawrence office Wednesday morning to offer reassurances to the workers.

"There's nothing to be concerned about at this moment," he said. "There's been no discussion with my commissioners about any closings."

The workers, Pamela Drentlaw and Joseph Pellegrini, said they were nonetheless concerned. Pellegrini said the office already had been streamlined.

"About 95 percent of our people are elderly," Pellegrini said. "I don't know what the scenario would be if this office closed."

Most likely, he said, Lawrence veterans would have to travel to Topeka or wait for weekly (or perhaps monthly) visits from commission officials.

"I think its devastating to Lawrence veterans," said Vernon Russell, commander of the Lawrence Veterans of Foreign Wars post. "If they would come down on Mondays well, some people couldn't make it on Mondays."

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