County VA officer position eliminated

Published 1:59 pm Friday, March 23, 2012

Many former soldiers in Chilton County are upset and confused about the closing of the local Veterans Affairs office.

Jennifer Kamerer, who served as a full-time VA agent in the Chilton County Courthouse, told the county commission at its meeting on March 12 that her position had been eliminated.

“What we’re looking at is a major, major blow to our county,” Kamerer told the commission.

The office will be staffed one day a week, on Fridays, from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., by a service officer that travels from the Shelby County office in Columbiana. Or veterans can travel to VA offices in Autauga, Bibb, Dallas or Shelby counties.

Kamerer said the arrangement isn’t adequate to serve the county’s more than 3,000 veterans, an opinion seconded by Phil Burnette, commander of the 23rd District, American Legion Department of Alabama.

“I’m hearing a lot of anger from the veterans, myself included,” Burnette said. “A lot of our veterans are not able to travel. To be quite blunt, I think it’s a shame and a disgrace that we’re being left without representation in the county.”

VA Central Alabama District Manager Robert Higgins said the elimination of the agent position in Chilton County was necessitated by a cut in state funding–and warned that even the one-day-a-week arrangement might not last once the state Legislature passes a new budget, expected in May.

“At that time, the department will probably have to close several offices and consolidate,” Higgins said and added that the state VA is short about 40 people overall.

Higgins’ district includes 28 counties. He said Chilton County has the 12th largest population of veterans and was one of nine offices that have been closed since a study of the district was done in December 2001.

So, some counties with a smaller population than Chilton didn’t suffer cuts. Higgins said decisions weren’t based solely on the population of veterans in a county but also the trend of that population.

Higgins said the number of veterans in Chilton County decreased by 403 between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

“In the rural counties, what we’ve seen is that as the population ages, it doesn’t increase because there are no incoming veterans [from current or recent wars],” Higgins said. “If they are coming back, they’re going to where they can find work and not back home.”

Ultimately, closings were necessary because of a lack of state funding, Higgins said.

“We are in dire shape–that’s the bottom line,” he said.

Still, Burnette said he and other veterans are upset with their service being cut, considering the sacrifices they made for their country. He also vowed to work with the county’s representation in the state Legislature to try to find a solution.

“I just don’t think things should be fixed on the backs of us veterans,” he said. “We gave a portion of our life under the promise that we would be taken care of and provided for. That’s not the only reason we served, but to take that away from us now…I just don’t believe that’s fair. I’m just hopeful that veterans will stand against this and get something done. This is just entirely unacceptable.”

Chilton County veterans wishing to talk with a VA agent should call or visit one of the following offices:

•Autauga County (Prattville): Office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The telephone number is (334) 361-3742.

•Bibb County (Centreville): Office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Telephone number is (205) 926-3116.

•Dallas County (Selma): Office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Telephone number is (334) 874-2533.

•Shelby County (Columbiana): Office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Telephone number is (205) 669-3835.