In the aftermath of war, veterans can be left without support, but not in San Juan County.
“Our veterans assistance program is extremely generous — more generous than programs in many counties,” said San Juan County Auditor Milene Henley.
Veterans make up 10 percent of San Juan County, but this year there’s an excess of assistance funds for them.
The levy to collect the Veterans Assistance Fund was raised last year, from fear money would run dry after only $10,000 was left in 2015. Yet, by the close of 2016, there was an extra $35,000, totaling about $100,000 to be dispensed to needy veterans this year.
Henley doubted all will be used.
“If we ever reach a point where the amount in the fund exceeds the fund, then we would not levy that year,” said Henley.
On a wealthy island, it’s sometimes hard to find veterans in need.
“Most of the veterans here are not indigent; they are retired officers and they’re doing just fine,” said Veterans Advisory Board Member Michael Baker of Orcas. “If you count the number of indigent vets, we’re probably on the low side.”
According to the Washington Office of Financial Management, the average income per household in the county was $58,782 in 2014, but those who use the county’s Veterans Assistance Fund typically make under the poverty level, which is $12,060 for one person. Washington state law requires veterans receiving funds to be indigent, or poor.
To form the fund, 1.125 percent of $1,000 of assessed county property is collected annually. This is the lowest taxable amount possible, set by the state. Last year, it was increased by about .2 percent. Money not used the previous year is rolled over to the next.
Of the 16,329,713 veterans currently living in Washington, 1,748 live on the islands.
There’s no cap to how much a veteran can request, or how often. Information on the fund can be found at county senior centers, family resource centers and libraries. Yet, a lag remains this year.
“It can be really hard for a guy that stood up and fought for his country to say ‘I need help,’” said Veterans Advisory Board Chair Shannon Plummer of San Juan. “Sometimes, pride is all a person has left.”
Requesters must have served in the military and lived in the county for at least six months, as well had as an honorable discharge, added Baker.
About $65,000 have been dispensed from the fund, each year since about 2012, according to Baker, to help veterans make ends meet, like next month’s rent, or a new set of tires or propane tank. On average, Baker estimates about eight veterans request money a month. That number also include veterans’ widows and children.
According to Baker, the Veterans Advisory Board was formed in 2007 to help dispense the VAF, which has existed for about 15 years. Before that, money was dispensed by local American Legions. Washington code requires counties to establish a board to distribute funds and sets the requirements on who can receive them. San Juan County is currently short three board members.
If islanders know of veterans in need, send them to the family resource centers, the county council office on Spring Street, or the county website to complete an application, said Baker. Search for “veterans assistance” at www.sanjuanco.com to find the application.
This Memorial Day, consider helping a veteran in need. After years of service, now it’s the citizens’ turns to give back to the soldiers who served them.
“This is a rich county; we can afford to help,” said Baker. “It’s an obligation to help anyone who volunteered to serve our country.”
For info, visit www.sanjuanco.com/575/Veterans-Advisory-Board.