Budget recommendation seeks staff member to meet long-awaited needs of veterans

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Photo by John Flynn

Friday, July 8, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

City staff members are pushing for city council to fund a new position in the Office of Civil Rights that would allow the office to handle many needs and responsibilities identified over years of inactive plans for a resource center for veterans and military affairs in city government.

A memo released last week by leaders of the Office of Civil Rights and Human Resources and the Civil Service suggests Council include $127,000 in the next city budget to fund a Program Manager II position. within the OCR, which began working closely last year with Veterans Services offices in the five-county area.

The memo calls on the new position to “collaborate with internal and external partners (and) local, state, and federal agencies to inform policy, develop programs, and facilitate stakeholder engagement and Council policy direction regarding the Veterans Community,” which covers some of the key functions included in several presentations over the past few years on how to better serve veterans in Central Texas.

The memo came in response to a December Council resolution directing the city manager to identify the costs, funding sources and steps needed to establish a veterans resource center. The memo lists with more than two dozen bullet points the numerous attempts, beginning in 2015, by groups such as the Veterans Affairs Commission and the Department of Human Resources to create an office specifically focused on the needs of local veterans.

The most significant developments in these efforts began in 2017 when the Veterans Affairs Commission recommended that the city allocate $1.3 million in its 2018 budget to create the Resource Center and Veterans Plaza, and provide the necessary staff for the center.

A December 2017 memo from human resources identified 12 organizations involved in veterans affairs that could help run a center and looked at the costs of opening the center in southeast Austin ($834,185 over five years) or downtown ($1.78 million over five years), with an additional $200,000 needed for furnishings and basic telecommunications capabilities.

The Veterans Commission’s next budget recommendation called on the Council to provide $850,000 per year for five years to establish and staff the center. This recommendation was not included in the following year’s budget, and in August 2019 Human Resources and the Combined Arms Organization made a presentation at a Board business meeting that showed the need and areas of interest for a possible center dedicated to veterans’ issues.

Among the findings: Benefits application assistance was the most needed service, followed by mental health, employment, social interaction and financial assistance as the most urgent areas for help. Others included legal assistance, living expenses, homelessness prevention, substance abuse, child care, transportation, and food availability. The groups also considered the pros and cons of having the center run by the city, a nonprofit group, or through a public-private partnership, as well as the services already available through Travis County, VA clinics, TexVet, Texas Veterans Commission. and the Austin Community College VSO.

In early 2020, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Veterans Affairs Commission passed a recommendation calling for the creation of a Department of Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs, although it did not include any budget recommendations. .

The memo describes the many activities related to veterans’ issues that the Department of Human Resources carried out from 2017 to 2022, including handling emergencies involving veterans, coordinating donations of furniture and other materials, and l interaction with several organizations in the region involved in the care of former combatants. problems.

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