Charlie Brown (far right), President of the Clay County Board of Commissioners, presents the keys to the new Veterans Service Office to recently re-appointed Veterans Service Officer Les Walden (seated). Attending the presentation were (from left) Post Commander L. Wayne Wright of American Legion Post No. 2, Commissioner David Parr, Vietnam-era veteran Jim Young and Post Commander James Cassidy of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1127.
Thanks to the efforts of the Clay County Board of Commissioners, Veterans Service Officer Les Walden can finally conduct business in an actual Veterans Service Office.
Walden has shared an office with Clay County 911 Director John Turner since his appointment in 2000, an arrangement Walden feels hampered the services he was able to offer Clay County's veterans.
"We were kind of handicapped in interviewing veterans and getting their claims processed," he said.
But when the relocation of the Clay County Extension Office to a new facility on the county fairgrounds freed up some room in the courthouse, the commissioners saw an opportunity to move Walden into an office that reflects the importance of his work.
"We need to give (veterans) everything we can, simply because they've given all for us," said Commissioner David Parr, who worked closely with Board of Commissioners President Charlie Brown in securing a private office for Walden. "We need to stand up for them every chance we get."
The Clay County Veterans Service Office provides assistance with insurance claims, health benefits and burial expenses to the some 2500 veterans living in the county. Its new location is easily accessed from the wheelchair ramp at the west entrance of the courthouse, a benefit Walden said won't be lost on disabled veterans visiting the office.
The new space also offers privacy, an important feature for veterans who come to discuss personal and financial matters with Walden.
"I've had a lot of favorable comments," he said. "It makes it easier for them to come in and talk to me in confidence about their problems as veterans."
The office isn't the only thing the commissioners have done to assist Clay County veterans. The board voted last year to increase the burial allowance for veterans from $100 to $250. The county allowance for "setting of markers" at veterans' gravesites also saw an increase, from $80 to the state-mandated maximum of $100. The changes went into effect Jan. 1.
Brown said the office transfer was completed at little or no cost to the county. McCurdy's offered materials at a reduced price, and the space was renovated with the help of the courthouse custodial staff and the Sheriff's Department's inmate road crew. Parr said those involved were all too happy to help.
"Everyone that had a hand in it felt a little pride at being able to help out the veterans," he said.