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Veterans Fight to Keep Local Services Office Open


They filled the front rows of the Ventura County board room Monday night, their caps gleaming with medals won in wars past.

They came to the county supervisors' budget hearing with a simple message: Do not close down the county's Veterans Services office.

"Your decisions are not just a matter of dollars and cents, but what is morally right," said Daryl G. Johnson, of Camarillo, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. "In times gone by, there was a saying, 'Nothing is too good for our boys.' Now it appears that is what they may be getting--nothing."

American Legion District Cmdr. Roy Lee Nichols of Camarillo said veterans had recovered $1.5 million in claims last year with the help of the county agency. "That's money that's used in Ventura County," he said.

For years, county supervisors have considered cutting the Veterans Services office when the budget gets tight.

But in past years, Public Social Services Agency chief James Isom has stood up and defended the tiny agency, which helps veterans navigate the bureaucratic maze of benefits and services.

At Monday's public hearing, Isom delivered a different message.

"I'm suggesting that you cut it," he told the board. But he added, "If you cut Veterans Services this year, give us time to work with a community-based service to do the same thing."

Isom said he believes the program would actually be more stable if a nonprofit group took it over.

The county could save the $116,000 it expects to spend next year. And with proper planning, another group, possibly a veterans organization, could take over the county's cases and assume the $54,000 in state funding that comes to the agency.

"Veterans won't like that," Isom acknowledged. "But if they get the services, it won't make any difference where they get the services."

The agency is a perennial target for budget cuts because it is not mandated by the state or federal government, as most social service programs are.

The board cut the agency's staff from six to four employees in 1992. The agency was forced to reduce its hours at its Oxnard office and shut down satellite services in the east county.

Supervisors Susan Lacey and Maggie Kildee said they attended a meeting with United Way officials last week and were hopeful that a nonprofit group, bolstered by volunteers, could assume the county's work.

Faced with a $14.7-million deficit, county supervisors are scouring their proposed $880-million budget for possible cuts. They begin chopping today.

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