June 09, 2023

Veteran affairs revamp shows results

More Jasper County veterans seeking help due to new outreach efforts

Multiple updates on the new outreach efforts of Jasper County Veterans Affairs were laid out for the first time on Jan. 18 during the department’s quarterly report to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors.

Veterans affairs’ newest service officer, Alyssa Flood — who has been leading the charge to improve the department — presented the report containing various updates for the supervisors, including the effectiveness of its newly launched outreach efforts.

Starting in November 2021, veterans affairs began tracking its office’s activities such as appointments and walk-in visits. Flood, who was hired at the tail end of October 2021 and has previously worked with several veteran-focused agencies and nonprofits, was hired by the department to assist with connecting with Jasper County veterans in need of services.

“Unfortunately I don’t have any data from before I was hired, but I can tell you that there isn’t a day where I’m not busy with something,” Flood said.

Flood said she spent her first few months with the department addressing claims that seemed to have fallen through the system’s cracks.

“Shortly after I began I found a pension claim from a 101-year-old man that was originally filed in 2015 that the state had not yet made a decision on. I contacted and really pushed hard for the state to make some progress in that case and finally the claim was approved,” Flood said. “The man will also be receiving a substantial back payment from the state that amounts to the past seven years of missed payments.”

During Flood’s hiring hearing back in October, veterans affairs service officer Keith Thorpe spoke to the board on his department’s need for a fresh set of eyes and ideas that will help them reach out to veterans who the department has previously had great difficulty trying to connect with.

Since then, Flood has introduced several new programs to help build these connections, including a new social hour hosted by the department where veterans can receive a complimentary meal, conversation and information from the department regarding its programs.

Due to the recent surge in COVID infections and the fact that most of the veterans who seek assistance are older, Flood has had to put several of her in-person programs on hold. But this setback has only spurred on her attempts to used social media to connect with veterans across the county.

“Social media has really been helping our outreach efforts these past few months,” Flood said.

Flood also expressed concern during her hiring hearing that most of the veterans affair’s previous outreach efforts have been centered around Newton. And one of her bigger goals is to get out into smaller communities to connect with residents who are disabled or unable to travel for long distances.

Documents provided at the meeting show ramped up outreach efforts and a fresh face have been driving up demand for veterans affairs services.

According to reports, compared to before Flood’s hiring the number of federal assistance and benefit applications submitted to veterans affairs nearly doubled from 42 in October to more than 70 in November and December.

“In the months following October we really hit the ground running,” Flood said. “I think news traveled quickly that someone who used to work with the federal branch was hired who could help applicants navigate the process.”

Neither Flood or Thorpe introduced any new programs or efforts during their report to the supervisors, instead choosing to emphasize the attention every application their department requires.

“Right now we are doing a variety of things, no two cases are the same,” Flood said. “From helping out with disability compensation, to pensions or financial assistance for people who are struggling. We kind of do it all.”

Any veterans who live in Jasper County and are seeking assistance can contact veterans affairs by phone at 641-792-7993 or through its Facebook page.

Contact Abby Knipfel at 641-792-4687 ext. 6531 or aknipfel@shawmedia.com

Abby Knipfel

Abby "Adler" Knipfel

Journalist at Newton Daily News. Currently covering Jasper County and writing passionate opinion pieces. They/Them