County may cut veteran services

  • Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 11:07 a.m.

By Nathan Hardin

SALISBURY — County leaders could decide to gut the Veteran Services Office during Monday’s meeting.

County Manager Gary Page proposes eliminating the department’s part-time clerical position. The proposal also includes cutting Veteran Services Officer Elaine Howle from full-time to part-time at 19 hours a week.

The proposal is on the consent agenda, meaning commissioners could approve it without discussion.

When reached by phone, Howle said she was “shocked” and was not aware of the proposed reduction.

Howle said her job is to teach veterans how to qualify for benefits and to help veterans recoup back pay.

Where the VA Medical Center helps with healthcare, she said, she helps with finances.

“It brings in probably several hundred thousand a year,” Howle said of her position.

Page said commissioners are considering cutting the positions to free up funds for other departments.

The VA Hospital has staff counselors who provide similar assistance, Page said, and other nonprofits can help local veterans.

“Between those nonprofits and the VA, maybe we could do reduce Elaine’s position to half-time,” he said.

If the proposal passes, Howle said, veterans will have to wait longer for appointments and some may have to find assistance elsewhere.

“They’ll just have to wait longer for their appointments,” she said. “Right now, nobody has to wait more than a week for an appointment.”

Howle said she was on vacation and Page may have been waiting for her to return before breaking the news.

Page said the commissioners brought up the proposal during a closed session discussion two weeks ago.

“One commissioner said, ‘Look, we were asked to do some things for two or three departments that we couldn’t do,’ ” Page recalled. “These are some areas that we think need attention. We think we can take these steps and redirect those resources to where they may be needed elsewhere.”

With the cuts, Page said, the county will save around $26,000 a year.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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