Finding a home for veterans services

     From his second-story office, Korean War Veteran Gene Rohrer offers all the help he can for local veterans who need assistance to deal with a service-related disability.
     Rohrer is in his third year as the veterans service officer for Whitley County, but he feels it’s time the office found a permanent location and something more easily accessible than his office that has nearly two dozen steps up to it.
     “I just think it’s time that Whitley County veterans have their own office,” he said.
     The Woodlands Senior Center also offers space for him to use, and for that he is thankful, but somewhere in the Whitley County Government Center with set hours seems like the right fit to both Rohrer and county officials.
     He also makes house calls because many of them have a tough time getting up the two flights of stairs to his office.
    “I think it would be a good thing, at least for the veterans,” Whitley County Commissioner Mike Schrader said.
     Rohrer has volunteer help ready, but feels a secretary to help with typing would also be a benefit, and he wants to do it with volunteers so there’s no need to increase the budget.
     All he feels is needed is an average-sized room for the office with computer, fax machine, copier and printer.
     He feels any small open space in the government center or the courthouse could be used.
     While at the senior center, the room he uses is also used by SHIIP and other groups, but the senior center accommodates him with space.
     Aside from the need for a stable location, standard office hours with a dedicated phone line would also be a benefit of the program.
     The 2,714 veterans in Whitley County bring in about $11 million in assistance in one way or another, and that’s money spent in the area.
     “There’s a direct correlation between how much work the veteran’s service officer puts in and how many veterans he helps and how much money the county gets back,” Rohrer said.
     He gets an annual pay of $5,970 for the work he does to get those veterans assistance, but he’s not asking for more compensation, just a place for the office to call home that’s easily accessible and centrally-located.
     “I knew what the job paid when I got into it,” he said.
     By comparison to counties with similar numbers of veterans to Whitley County, Clinton County pays its veterans service officer $12,000 and offers a support staff and brought in $6 million in assistance to veterans.
     DeKalb County pays its position $40,000, and Huntington County pays $32,000 to the service officer and $27,000 for a secretary, but the county brought in $11 million to veterans in need.
     Rohrer helps veterans from Korea and Vietnam, and he is now getting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
     “These guys are getting beat up, when you have to go back three or four times,” Rohrer said, and he feels the newest veterans will have more disabilities than veterans from the past because of what have now become survivable injuries.
     The most recent veterans are somewhat more knowledgeable on the electronic needs for the forms and other requirements, but the system can sometimes be tricky, and that’s where Rohrer lends a hand.
     But veterans from Vietnam also seek more assistance now than when they returned because of the disgust many of them had with the federal government.
     Aside from disabilities related to service, he also helps widows with available assistance and enrolls veterans in the VA hospital.
     The county currently pays Rohrer $100 a month for rent for his home office.
     For Schrader and Rohrer, a place in a county building would allow that money in the budget to be used for other needs in the office.
     “I’m not asking them to put out a lot of money,” Rohrer said.