County to open veterans office today

San Mateo County opens a new Veterans Services Office today in an effort to expand the program and improve outreach to local veterans. The new center has moved to the Human Services Agency in Belmont and will gain a second staff person to help inform the vets about their benefits, including mental-health services, financial aid, work training and housing assistance.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved the program’s expansion in September in response to an earlier report indicating that 27 percent of the county’s homeless were war veterans. The new office will increase visibility and accessibility, according to the county program’s manager, Gary Beasley, and the second staff member will be instrumental in finding veterans that need help. Until now, the county’s veterans office had only one staff person.

“Our officer was very overwhelmed with referrals,” Beasley said. “The vets were also bringing it to our attention and to the attention of politicians.”

Today’s opening celebration comes two days after Veterans Day and will include tours and an overview of available services.

“Now we’ll be able to go into the community more to do outreach and inform those vets of what’s available,” said Supervisor Jerry Hill, who will speak at the ceremony.

The program especially targets veterans who are on the lowdown, many of them Vietnam War vets who may not know whatbenefits they are entitled to receive. Most benefit information is provided by the Veterans Affairs Office online, something that may not be accessible to a homeless or poor veteran.

“We are trying to bring this service directly one on one so veterans don’t have to try to work their way through the bureaucracy,” Hill said.

83-year-old World War II veteran Chris Pallas, who formerly served on the City Council in San Bruno, said that veteran services have been up and down throughout the last 50 years. He said the country can take better care of its veterans.

“We could do better, but it’s up to the veterans,” said Pallas. “If we are strong in numbers and if we vote for people that support us, then we can protect our benefits. We should become active because apathy caused us to lose a lot.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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