Topeka — The Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs has just one service representative for every 11,000 veterans in Kansas — a ratio that ranks it dead last nationally, according to its executive director.
Jack Fowler, who leads the state agency responsible for reaching out to the 235,000 former service members in Kansas, said the challenge of helping the veterans with such limited staff is “very daunting.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the national average is one representative for every 3,500 veterans.
Problems have been exacerbated by cuts in the agency’s staff and budget. Fowler said that in the past 18 months, the agency was forced to close offices in Pittsburg, Hutchinson and Marysville.
Only about 13 percent of Kansas’ veterans were enrolled in benefits programs through the VA — well below the average for the surrounding states of 18 percent, said Wayne Bollig, who coordinates field service representatives for the agency.
Bollig estimates that Kansas may be missing 14,000 veterans eligible for services.
Employees of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars make use of a state grant, funneled through KCVA, to place additional certified veterans service personnel at the state’s VA hospitals in Leavenworth, Wichita and Topeka.
However, Bollig said that KCVA would need to hire 17 new claims representatives to move toward parity with nearby states. Bringing the state up to par would increase veteran assistance payments by an estimated $85 million annually, he said.
Help could come after the Legislature made a surprise decision to transfer $900,000 to the agency by reducing a state grant to public television and radio.
It’s unclear whether Gov. Mark Parkinson will veto the transfer, which is seen as more anti-public broadcasting than pro-military.