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$60 million in outside help: the cost of human suffering

The mobile vets bus provides counseling services. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Two Hubbard County departments bring a $60+ million economic impact of outside help to the area, but those funds carry a toll of human suffering.

Veterans Services Officer Greg Remus told the Hubbard County Board Wednesday veterans and their families received $12.2 million of federal help in 2010, generally in the form of compensation, pension and medical benefits. To a lesser degree the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs compensates vets for education, insurance and burial services.

Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs paid Hubbard County vets more than $26,000 in state soldier assistance program benefits in 2010.

"We hope to double that this year," Remus told the board. In 2011, more than $15,000 in grant benefits had come to the county through March.

And that is reason to celebrate because Remus and assistant Karen Van De Venter have instituted a dramatic turnaround of the struggling office. Vets are people the VSO can keep off county welfare rolls, Remus said.

He praised Van De Venter for her willingness to plunge into the growing workload of vets seeking help.

But Remus also said his monthly columns, published in the Enterprise and other newspapers, are partly accountable for the success.

Commissioner Lyle Robinson disagreed.

"You have created an atmosphere" indicating a willingness to help veterans, he said.

Remus said the growing economic impact of the help vets are receiving "is a good indication we're going in the right direction."

Robinson has always viewed veterans' assistance as a form of economic development. For better or worse, so is public welfare, which adds $50 million to the economic base of the county.

That's the amount Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler says passes through the county on an annual basis for income maintenance, food support, medical assistance and other public welfare programs.

A variety of local merchants, especially grocery stores, benefit from those funds, Bessler said.

Hubbard County reached a new high of income maintenance case numbers in April, rising to 2,537 cases, Bessler reported.

That could represent a single case or a household, he explained. It's a measure of Hubbard County's poverty level.

The county pays the salaries of the caseworkers who process the claims, but state and federal monies provide the benefits, around $50 million annually, Bessler estimated.

And Bessler's monthly mantra was repeated again Wednesday.

"Hopefully things are gonna turn around," he said. "But these (caseload) levels don't show it's gonna happen any time soon."

The county's 11 caseworkers have an average of 231 cases. A decade ago, 8 caseworkers handled an average of 153 cases.

Remus chuckles that his office of two people can bring in one-fifth the amount of funds Social Services does, with considerably more workers.

But he acknowledges his office is buzzing with activity.

Remus is also excited about new initiatives that will keep veterans affairs on the front burner locally. A tri-county vets roundup will be held July 9 as part of the Menahga Midsummer festival. It will be held from 2-7 p.m. and feature vets services form Hubbard, Wadena and Becker Counties.

Once a month a mobile van comes to the Park Rapids American Legion to mainly offer counseling services to vets for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And there's talk of getting weekly services from the Duluth vets clinic to visit Bemidji.

Even Robinson acknowledges that the county has a tremendous "cash cow" in welfare payments, but he wishes it weren't so.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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