Walton joins push for second VA regional office in Florida





The Walton County Commission is joining other local governments trying to get a second Veterans Affairs regional office in the state. The board approved a resolution last week asking President Barack Obama for help.

Gainey said California has the most veterans and has three regional offices. Texas has the third highest veteran population and has two offices.

Florida’s only regional office is in St. Petersburg.

The effort to get a second office in Florida began in Pasco County, where data collected by both the American Legion and the Veterans Benefits Administration found thousands of backlogged cases and an appeal rate of 56 percent.

“All we’re doing is trying to get each county to pass the resolution,” said Bill Klinger, Pasco County’s veterans service officer. “We have a backlog of over 100,000 claims.”

Klinger sent requests for resolutions to the other 66 counties in the state.

“We have one of the largest populations (of veterans) and we certainly would like to see another Veterans Affairs office, particularly in Walton or Okaloosa (counties),” Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander said.

The resolution states that each county is “urging the President of the United States and Congress to support the need for a second Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in the state of Florida.”

According to the resolution, at the end of 2007 there were more than 391,000 rating cases pending in the Veterans Benefits Administration system. More than 25 percent of them had been pending for more than 180 days.

The resolution adds that in 2008, a report to the subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs reported that the American Legion said there was a 20 to 30 percent error rate in processing claims.

Resolutions have been sent to U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Sen. Bill Nelson, Sen. George LeMieux and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

“If legislation is passed to build a second regional office, VA will certainly support the initiative,” the VA said in a statement.

“We just want to take the work load off of the one regional office in St. Petersburg,” Gainey said. “Sometimes (the veterans) end up losing everything with the wait.”


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