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Where is Bandera's vet population going?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A recent report from Bandera County Veterans Service Officer Mary Jo Schaeffer to county commissioners raised an interesting question: Where are local veterans going? Although the county's veteran population has declined substantially from fiscal year 2011, Schaeffer told the court she had no idea what had led to the decease. In addition, when queried by County Judge Richard Evans, she was unable to offer statistics regarding the actual number of local veterans she assists. "We aren't required to report that data to the VA," Schaeffer said.
Meanwhile, the report she delivered to commissioners on Thursday, June 27, centered mainly on the county's slice of the Veterans Administration expenditures pie.
According to Schaeffer, of Bandera County's 2,667 veterans, 1,737 "unique patients" received treatment at a VA healthcare facility in 2012. This indicated that each patient treated was counted only once for data collection - regardless of the number of medical procedures that were performed.
"The expenditures was just not money paid to veterans, but money the Veterans Administration also spends on veterans," Schaeffer explained.
Last year, VA expenditures in Bandera County totaled $20,345,000 - $10,274,000 in compensation and pensions, $563,000 in the form of education and vocational rehabilitation and employment, $535,000 for insurance and indemnities and $13,475,000 for medical care.
Congressman Lamar Smith's District 21, which includes parts of Bexar, Travis, Comal, and Hays counties and all of Bandera, Blanco, Gillespie, Kendall, Kerr and Real counties. Of the District 21's eligible 88,931 veterans, 21,559 unique patients were treated in a VA medical facility and the $559,521,000 in total VA expenditures included $313,018,000 in compensation and pensions; $3,000 in construction; $58,810,000, education and vocation rehabilitation and employment; $10,022,000 insurance and indemnities; and $177,669,000 for medical care.
The State of Texas boasts a total of 1,675,689 veterans with 417,639 receiving total expenditures of $11,164,622,000. Regarding local veterans, Schaeffer said one third of the population had sought treatment at the VA, Schaeffer said.
After reporting that the county's population had declined from the previous year by 352, she could not account for the drop. In 2010, Bandera County had 3,025 veterans with only 114 funerals, according to data from Grimes Funeral Chapel in Bandera.
She also decried the fact that it takes 125 days to process a veteran's claim, which is slightly better that the previous six months.
"There's been very little positive experiences when dealing with the VA," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris. "I wish the government would treat the veterans a lot better than they do." Other commissioners concurred with his assessment, particularly Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King, whose son has gotten caught up in the latest RIF (reduction in force). "He was told the Army is letting 70,000 soldiers go every year," King said.
To assist and provide advocacy for veterans and advocate for them, Schaeffer is available from 2 pm to 5 pm each Tuesday at the tax office at the Ray Mauer Courthouse Annex, 403 12th Street, and from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm, the last Wednesday of the month at the Lakehills Courthouse Annex. Veterans are encouraged to call Schaeffer for an appointment at 830-460-1643 or just drop by.
Additionally, veterans meet informally and "off-the-record" at 10 am, every Thursday at the Dogleg Coffee House, 315 Main Street.