Havre Daily News
The Montana Veterans Affairs Division is reviving a Havre service office for veterans on the Hi-Line, courtesy of the 2003 Legislature.
Joe Foster, administrator of the Montana Veterans Affairs Division, said the Legislature appropriated money for Veterans Affairs to add three full-time positions, and one will be a service officer working out of the National Guard complex in Havre.
Veterans service officers help veterans find out if they are eligible for benefits and help them apply, Foster said. The officer will help them appeal the decision if the benefits are denied.
"It will be a portal to accessing VA benefits," Foster said.
Dennis Hinkle, commander of the local American Legion post, said having a local service officer will benefit many veterans.
"There's a lot of people who could use it and a lot of times they don't have transportation," he said. "A lot of those people need that help and a lot of the time can't get it."
Jim Matter, commander of the Havre Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said he thinks there will be a large demand for the services in the office. Many veterans don't know what benefits are available to them, or don't want to go through the application process by themselves, he said.
Many of the available programs are for disabled veterans, "but there are a lot of benefits all the way around," he said. "I'm sure there are a lot of things I'm eligible for but I'm not aware of or wouldn't go through the hassle (to apply for them)."
Foster said opening an office here was a high priority for the division.
"I had requested that because one of the areas I felt was a shortfall in our ability to serve veterans was on the Hi-Line," he said.
Foster said Havre's veterans service office closed about 1990, before he became administrator of Veterans Affairs. The closure was probably due to budget cuts and a lack of use of the service, he said.
The Havre office will serve an area from Browning to Poplar. The area is now served by the offices in Miles City and Great Falls. Service officers from those cities travel to communities on the Hi-Line to meet with veterans.
The region includes the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck and Rocky Boy Indian reservations.
"(The reservations,) I think, have a unique need for veterans services," Foster said.
The need is not created by the large proportion of veterans on the reservations, he said. A high percentage of Montana residents serve or have served in the military, and the percentage on the reservations is about the same as the state average, he said.
Foster said he thinks the need on the reservations is greater because of their isolation and the lack of transportation for many of their residents.
The Havre service officer will travel to the reservations to work with veterans there, Foster said.
"We do have an outreach program now that goes to the reservations, typically once or twice a month," Foster said. "But it's not frequent enough. With any clientele you have to build up trust. Right now we're not capable of achieving that."
Veterans Affairs will use the other two positions funded by the Legislature to fill a position in Great Falls that was left vacant when a service officer retired, and to create a new position for an outreach program. The outreach officer will use a van as a traveling office to provide services throughout the state, Foster said.
Veterans Affairs is accepting applications for the Havre position through April 1. Foster said he hopes to have the office open by May 1.