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American Legion commander Dave Free addressed the Hubbard County board Wednesday, flanked by a room full of veterans concerned their needs are not being met. The board promised to fix the situation, prompting a loud round of applause. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Veterans voice concerns about county VSO

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Nearly 30 veterans, many attired in their red American Legion hats and jackets, trooped into the Hubbard County boardroom Wednesday to voice their dissatisfaction of the county's Veterans Service Office.

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They said their support for Veterans Service Officer Dave W. Konshok has eroded after he reportedly told them last week at a Legion meeting he'd prefer being the county's Emergency Management Director to being the county's VSO. He splits the duties of each position. Vets have lobbied for a full-time VSO.

"We joined the service to protect and serve," said one elderly veteran, limping into the meeting room. "Our country promised us it would take care of us. Ha!"

Growing dissatisfaction with the office prompted the county board to re-evaluate Konshok two weeks ago to find ways to address the vets' concerns. Konshok will now divide his time 95-5 between the positions instead of 50-50, devoting the majority of his time to filing veterans' claims.

Of further concern is his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in July for nine months.

"Why are we wasting time with this guy?" questioned Legion commander Dave Free. "If you don't want to be there you won't do the job. Seventy-five percent of nothing is still nothing."

"We'll do the very best we can to rectify these issues," promised commissioner Don Carlson. "The vets are not the poor cousins on the block."

"I'd rather have my road plowed less" to fund a full-time VSO, said veteran Ron Masanz. "They get tired of the rigmarole and not being served," he said of his fellow vets. He pleaded with the county to do right by the veterans.

"You're always going to have veterans," he said, referring to the ongoing Gulf War conflicts.

Each board member gave his impression of the closed-door meeting and many, while agreeing the vets deserve better service, said they don't have grounds to remove Konshok from his position.

"My hope is that any time a vet comes in, he should be immediately waited on," board chair Lyle Robinson said. "Vets should be taken care of first. It seems that's not always the case."

But Robinson added, "I came away (from the closed-door meeting) feeling the work done was done well. He's just gone too much. That was my opinion. Whether we like it or don't like it, Dave Konshok is our Veterans Service Officer and he has more legal rights than you or I have right now."

Konshok was out of the office nearly 90 days last year, some days for reserve training in Utah. Under Minnesota law he is allowed 15 days of military leave annually. Those days were used up by March, county coordinator Jack Paul said.

Konshok, who was not present at the board meeting when the vets were there, admitted making the remarks to the Legion and said he knew it upset the vets.

"I did mention that if (the job) splits a decision has gotta be made," he said Wednesday afternoon. "It's not any secret that my background has been pretty heavy on the emergency management.

"I did tell them that it's a difficult decision for me," he recalled telling the Legion group. "I consider both of these jobs important but the reality is if they split it I would have to make a choice. But they asked me a direct question and I wanted to be honest with them."

The county has preliminarily tapped Darryl Hensel to fill the position while Konshok is deployed. Hensel works in the county recorder's office. One proposal would be to move the VSO into the courthouse to make it more visible and for Hensel to be able to work in both areas if needed. He was the runner-up for the job when the board tapped Konshok, who was given a veteran's preference in the hiring.

The board learned it would take two to three days of training to certify Hensel, but "there's tremendous support out there" if he needs additional help.

Konshok said moving the office from the fairgrounds makes sense from a service perspective, putting it under the courthouse roof. It was part of a recommendation offered in a recent space needs study the county commissioned.

Regardless of the location, Konshok said pairing the offices together puts added demands on anyone.

"Both of these are kind of variable demand," he said of the two positions.

"That's one of the challenges," he said. "They've both got their steady state but both have their periods where both of these offices have had peaks, if you will, and if both have peaks simultaneously, it's a pretty challenging juggling act."

Konshok said currently, there has been a dip in requests for veterans services because "many of those folks have gone south." But seasonal requests for housing and winter fuel assistance will increase the workload soon, he said.

John Warren, who worked at Fort Snelling 31 years and attended the meeting for support, said having a point person to attend to veterans' needs was a crucial position, whether staffed full-time or part-time.

"It's not just the vets, but the vets' families," he said.

Hubbard County resident Kathy Belt, who is the wife and daughter of veterans and the grandmother of a current soldier, thanked the roomful of vets for their service.

She then turned her attention to the board.

"Would you please take care of my family?" she requested.

Because commissioner Ca Johannsen was out of tow, Robinson postponed a formal decision on Konshok's temporary replacement.

"It's too important an issue to be dealt with without a full board," he told the vets.

"Your passion for fixing this problem is the best news we've had in a long time," Free told the board, to loud applause.

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