New office to be ‘by veterans, for veterans’

Published 2:10 pm Friday, June 22, 2012

Chilton County veterans will band together to open a volunteer office to help veterans apply for benefits and complete paperwork.

Phil Burnette, commander of the American Legion 23rd District, said the office would become a reality.

“What we’ve come up with is, ‘Who can do it better than us?’” Burnett said during a meeting of about 50 veterans Thursday night at Helen Jenkins Chapel in Thorsby. “We will have a volunteer office in Chilton County. This is something that we are going to do.”

The meeting was called after the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs decided to close the Chilton County VA Office, as well as offices in 17 other counties.

The new office would be staffed by volunteers and offer the same services that were available at the VA office.

To be successful, though, Burnette told the veterans the office would need the “backing of every veteran in Chilton County and their families,” corporate and individual donations and a location.

The last of those three may be resolved as early as Monday.

Burnette and other veterans plan to address the Chilton County Commission during their Monday evening meeting and ask to use the former VA office.

“Everyone knows where it’s at — it’s been there for 50 years,” Burnett said.

Several other guests spoke during Thursday’s meeting. State Sen. Cam Ward and State Rep. Kurt Wallace both talked about the budget situation in Montgomery that necessitated the closing of offices.

Wallace said there was “no doubt” the office was needed, but that “it came down to the money situation.”

Wallace said the State VA has told him the office would be reopened if state funding increases.

William Wheat Jr., veterans program coordinator for the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, and James Appling, minority veterans program coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, also spoke at the meeting.

Veteran Ocie Williams told Ward and Wallace that he appreciated them being frank about the cuts, but that he was concerned about veterans being able to get to still open offices in other counties.

“This still gives us hope,” Williams said. “Hopefully, in 2014, it will be reconsidered.”