Grand jury calls veterans services administrators knowledgeable and professional

A new Madera County grand jury report released Feb. 20, states the administrative staff running the county Veterans Services Office is knowledgeable, experienced, professional and courteous, and any delays in processing claims are a result of the bureaucracy of the United States Veterans Administration - and are beyond the scope of the county Veterans Service Office.

The Madera County grand jury received a complaint regarding customer service in the Madera County Veterans Service Office in August 2014, and based on the complaint, the Madera County Veterans Service Office was selected for investigation by the grand jury.

Facts pointed out by the grand jury with regards to the veterans office were as follows:

1. Although office administration and staff are employed by the County of Madera, claims processing procedures are governed by the Veterans Administration Code.

2. The department head is the Veterans Service Officer, who is contracted from the County of Fresno two days per week to Madera County.

3. The 2013– 2014 Veterans Service Office budget was $120,363 with a staff of one veterans service officer and one veterans service representative. Both are trained and certified by the Veterans Administration (VA) to assist veterans and their families in filing claims for VA benefits.

4. The 2014– 2015 office budget is $136,210 which includes the addition of one extra help clerical employee funded by one-time special project monies from the VA.

5. The office initiates 350–400 claims and maintains approximately 2,000 open claims per year.

6. The veterans service representative sees eight to nine appointments and eight to 10 walk-in visits per day, and accommodates 25 appointments one day per month in Oakhurst. In addition, the veterans service officer also maintains a full schedule of appointments the two days per week in Madera.

Findings presented by the grand jury were as follows:

1. The Madera County veterans service office administrative staff is knowledgeable, experienced, professional and courteous.

2. Newly hired extra help staff has reduced the clerical burden of the veterans service representative. Effectiveness of the clerical personnel should further improve with experience in the position.

3. Delays in claims processing are a result of the bureaucracy of the United States Veterans Administration - and are beyond the scope of the county veterans service office.

Recommendation: The Madera County grand jury recommends that the Madera County Board of Supervisors allocate funding to reclassify the current temporary extra help clerical position to permanent full time status. This would reduce the clerical burden for the veterans service representative.

The county’s 19-member 2014-2015 grand jury was impaneled June 30, 2014. Leanne Thomson, of Madera, serves as the jury foreperson, and the jury is overseen by Madera County Superior Court Judge D. Lynn Jones.

California’s constitution requires the appointment, every year, of a grand jury - a group of county citizens with the purpose of investigating public complaints about county government, and making recommendations on how to save county taxpayers money.

The 19-member jury is made up of a wide range of citizens from the county, to allow for different view points and opinions. The grand jury is an independent authority that is not answerable to administrators or legislators.

Eastern Madera County residents on this year’s grand jury include Carolyn Kelly, Thomas Allcock, and Heather Kepler of Ahwahnee - Robert Owen of North Fork - Sue Greer of Raymond - and Linda McConnell, Ben Savage, and Stephen Mitchell of Coarsegold.

Madera County citizens wishing to make an official complaint to the grand jury, can download a complaint form from the grand jury’s web site (google Madera County grand jury), and mail it to P.O. Box 534, Madera, Calif., 93639.

Details: Madera County grand jury, (559) 662-0946.

- Grand jury