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County will re-evaluate Veterans Service Office after many complaints

Hubbard County commissioners will conduct a performance review of the county's Veterans Service Office - and its officer - after hearing a steady drumbeat of complaints about poor service.

"These veterans deserve better," wrote Dave Free in a letter to the board. Free is commander of the Park Rapids American Legion Post 212.

"They gave 100 percent to their country and are entitled to 100 percent from their Veterans Service Officer," Free wrote.

Park Rapids veteran Glenn Harvala recounted his six trips to the office to get his insurance beneficiary changed on a policy he purchased after he retired from the Navy 40 years ago.

"There's never anyone there," he complained. Harvala accompanied Free to Wednesday's board meeting to voice their concerns about the lack of service they say they're getting.

Hubbard County VSO David W. Konshok acknowledged the complaints two weeks ago at his own appearance before the county board, maintaining that as a part-time officer, he cannot handle the growing number and complexity of cases. He asked for help.

Konshok spends the other half of his full-time job as the county's Emergency Management Director.

Free, after the meeting, said he's had complaints from at least 30 vets who aren't getting requests for benefits processed in a timely manner. Calls aren't being returned, he said, and disability benefits that vets depend on are being held up.

He said it could be a matter of life or death, but on a daily basis "it's a matter of your comfort - or discomfort."

He said the waiting and indecision on benefit eligibility weighs on vets' minds.

But Free emphasized "this is not a witch hunt to get Dave Konshok.

"He's just not in the office," Free said. "The reasons why are not my business."

Free said the county should understand veterans need a full-time officer to help them. Konshok, at his appearance Sept. 2, said Hubbard County is one of five counties in the state that doesn't have a full-time VSO.

Free said military enlistment to a degree is a two-way contract - servicemen and women perform a duty to their country in return for being taken care of when they need it, especially when wading through the morass of paperwork required to obtain assistance.

If vets come home disabled or with chronic health issues associated with their military service, the Veterans Administration becomes a lifeline, he said.

"Their country promised them benefits," Free said.

He sympathizes with Konshok's job. He said veteran's benefits rules and eligibility are a constantly shifting and complex landscape but vets need an officer that keeps abreast of those changes and can advise and help veterans through the process, not just turn them away to complete the forms on their own.

"There are just tremendous amounts of paperwork," Free said.

Harvala said when vets only get secretarial help, "there's no one to turn to, no one to get them the proper care through the VA."

Konshok, who said he faces potential deployment overseas as an Air Force reservist, acknowledged all the office's deficiencies.

He said he is almost constantly training for both positions and is attending workshops and training sessions frequently. He was at one such workshop Wednesday when the board was meeting.

"It's a common theme we're seeing" throughout the state, he said after meeting with other county VSOs. "There's a large increase coming in" looking for benefits. And, because he works with numerous agencies, getting help isn't simply a matter of applying to the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.

He said he's applied for grant money to fund a part-time office helper who would assist with claims.

He won't hear about that until December, Konshok indicated. That's about the time he will hear if his Air Force reserve unit will be deployed overseas for six months.

The review is scheduled for Oct. 7.