By Miriam Raftery
February 7, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Back in September 2013, our article titled, “Why is County Veterans Services Department ignoring rural East County vets?” inspired Supervisor Dianne Jacob to get a measure passed that would bring veterans’ services to libraries in rural East County.
We wrote our story after a reader, Claudia Millerbragg, informed us that there were no county services for veterans in our County's rural, mountain or desert regions--areas that lack adequate transit services, making it difficult for disabled veterans to travel and receive the services that they need. By contrast, ECM's investigation found an abundance of services in coastal areas, despite the fact that residents in those areas could access transit services--and the fact that East County has more veterans than the coastal region.
Supervisor Jacob's measure passed in March 2014 and stated that veterans service would be introduced into the El Cajon, Ramona, Julian and Pine Valley libraries by year’s end, with other locations possibly to follow.
But when East County Magazine contacted the County Veterans Services Department in January of 2015, we learned that a year and a half after our initial report, only two libraries have received veterans’ services – El Cajon and Rancho San Diego, both in suburban areas close to La Mesa, which already had services. Despite the measure passed by Supervisors, no veterans services had yet been brought to rural areas.
So we made some inquiries - and got results. Those who served our nation will soon be able to access services they need in libraries across our regoin.
Will Quintong is interim director of the county’s Aging and Independent Services department, which is handling veterans services.
“One of the big issues is manpower,” he said, adding that privacy issues when discussing veterans’ medical and disability concerns is another issue. The measure passed by Supervisors did not provided funding for training or additional personnel, though potentially personal could be shifted away from other areas such as the many coastal and central San Diego locations where veterans’ services are offered frequently and at locations close together.
“We’re trying our best. It is a priority of ours to have outreach in East County,” said Quintong. He added that a demonstration program for the Connect a Vet project was done briefly last year at the Julian library, with hopes to add a new location every six months or so. “It may not be as fast as people want, but we’re moving,” he said.
But with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars recently ended and a flood of veterans coming home, the need for immediate help is high in East County, which has the largest number of veterans of any region in San Diego County.
So we contacted Supervisor Jacob’s office after our conversation with Quintong.
A Jacob staffer called back and advised us that a meeting would be held the next day to establish priorities for the veterans’ outreach program into East County.
After the meeting, the staffer notified us that the county will begin putting a Veterans Services staffer into the Pine Valley Library later this month. In addition, a pilot program is set to launch in Julian in March.
Supervisor Jacob told ECM, ”It’s important to make Veterans Services as accessible as possible, so I share the frustration over the pace of the rollout in our rural areas. I’m assured that County staff is moving to address privacy and security issues, and expansion should move rapidly once the Julian pilot is in place ni March.”
For now, veterans can access services at the El Cajon Library on the second and fourth Monday of each month, and at the Rancho San Diego library on the second Thursday of every month, during regular library hours. Those locations were added as a result of the measure passed in response to ECM's investigation. Services are also available, as previously, at the La Mesa library on Fridays. No appointments are required and walk-ins are welcome.
We are interested in hearing from veterans who access or attempt to access services at these locations or others added in the future, to continue monitoring whether adequate outreach and accessibility is being provided to those who served our country and live in East County. Please post comments below this story or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.