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Program has helped add to veterans’ compensation

Wasco County Veterans’ Service Officer Russell Jones told city officials Monday that $1.1 million in compensation had been awarded to former military personnel in 2013.

“That’s quite a bit of revenue and economic development in our community from the veterans,” he said.

He said one-time checks of $834,074 checks had been issued to local residents from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a total of $314,325 had been received by veterans or their spouses in monthly payments last year.

Jones said about 61.6 percent of the county’s 3,241 veterans live in The Dalles. He said an educational campaign is being mounted to let more veterans know about benefits they might be entitled to because only 500-600 of this population group are being served. Slightly more than 26 percent are enrolled in VA health care and 14.7 percent receive disability payments.

“There’s a lot of room for us to grow,” said Jones.

He said every day at the 201 Federal Street office, nine veterans or family members walk through the door to inquire about filing claims, and volunteers receive about the same number of inquiries via telephone.

Because Klickitat County has set up an office to serve its own veterans, he said 99 percent of his clients are now from Wasco County. He believes the number of his clients will continue to grow as word gets out about the help offered by himself and Patrick Wilbern, intake coordinator.

“The upfront central location has definitely helped our presence so we’re getting more and more people in,” he said.

Jones’ report preceded the council’s approval of a 5-year lease for the veterans’ service office, which is located in the old transportation building. The city has offered the building for $1 per year and the county, with some financial help from the state, covers the cost of maintenance and wages for Jones and Wilbern, who works part-time.

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