Specter Trying to Forestall Closings of Five Veterans Centers

"If he can get the money to keep it open, I will probably stay on," James Krobath, an operations specialist in the Harrisburg center, said of Mr. Specter's efforts. "It would be pretty difficult at this point to recover. We're in the closeout mode."

Budget cuts have pushed state government to shutter the facilities, which help veterans with a range of services, from seeking pension benefits to obtaining medals. They have a strong reach in rural areas.

But state officials argue that some of the work duplicates efforts by county governments, the American Legion and other organizations. In tight fiscal times, officials want to shift $950,000 in funding for the five centers to employment services for veterans provided by the state's 67 CareerLink locations.

"Services to veterans are not being cut. They're actually being enhanced and improved," said Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industry.

Still, Mr. Specter doesn't want to see any veterans centers close, especially when thousands of soldiers and Marines will be returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years ahead.

"This is not the time to close an outreach post," he said in a phone interview yesterday.

On Thursday, he sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to request federal money.

"For many veterans in the state, particularly ones in rural areas, the centers serve as a principal resource in pursuing federal benefits and services," the letter said. "I think an opportunity exists here for the VA and Department of Labor to capitalize on existing infrastructure and relationships to improve outreach to veterans. I am eager to work with you to keep these centers operational."

The state's five Governor's Veterans Outreach and Assistance centers were started by Gov. Dick Thornburgh in the early 1980s. At the time, they were focused on aiding Vietnam veterans who were wary of going to federal agencies for help, according to Ronald Conley, Allegheny County's director of veterans affairs.

Mr. Conley declined to comment on whether he thinks the centers should close.

"I see the good they do, but I also see it duplicated," he said.

Mr. Krobath, who has worked at the Harrisburg center for the past decade, said some veterans prefer to come to his office instead of those run by county governments.

With three employees, the center has been helping as many as 4,000 clients a year, he said, and it fields many more phone calls.

"We're strictly service-oriented to the veteran. Not only that, we go out to the veterans, to their homes, to a location such as legislative district offices," Mr. Krobath said. "The county offices do similar things, but some only have part-time directors. Some veterans come to us when their county offices didn't give them any help."

He said the CareerLink employment services for veterans are a good resource, but his center provides a greater range of services.

Yet it may be too late for federal funding to reverse the looming closure. One Harrisburg center employee has already left for another job, and state officials will visit soon to begin removing equipment.

Mr. Krobath, 61, served with the Army in Vietnam in 1969, and he said he may go to a CareerLink location himself to seek employment advice from a veterans specialist.

"I have a family to support," he said.

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