Pickens County veterans at a Memorial Day observance in 2008
"We are going to open," said Kirk Kondos, the man leading the effort to establish a VA-assisted veterans information and referral office for Pickens County. The idea of locating such an office here has been projected since last August when VA representative Ron Hackney visited Jasper to inform local veterans and interested others of the possibility.
A veterans information and referral office (a VIRO) is a county-based office manned by volunteers with the mission of advising United States military veterans on where and how to apply for benefits through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
There is a VA hospital on Clairmont Road in Decatur and a VA office at the same location that assists veterans in applying for all types of veterans' benefits, Hackney explained in August, but a VIRO in Pickens County could connect local veterans to information on VA services they seek while saving them the drive to metro Atlanta.
"It's set up to where they can do it right here in the county to gain information on benefits that they need," Hackney said last summer. "You guys have a large number of veterans in your county right here," he noted.
Now into a new year, Kondos means to soon have the office open here and operating. County government has provided office space. Some furniture is available. More is needed along with about 10 volunteers, Kondos said.
Once 10 volunteers have signed up to help man the office, training can be scheduled to equip them for that service, Kondos explained. "The VA comes up, and they would train the people in our office," he said.
Training takes one day to accomplish, he said. Volunteers who staff the office will learn how to assist veterans when they come in. That help amounts to knowing where to look up different things (most relating to benefits) that a veteran might need as he or she pursues getting help from the government relating to their military service.
"They [volunteers] point them where they need to go and make the first appointment for them," Kondos said.
Establishing such an office here could be a ready help to local veterans.
"It's an informational office," Kondos said. "I'm hoping if it goes well I can talk the VA into a little bit more than that, but we'll start with that."
Volunteers are needed right away if the office is to open on schedule. You don't have to be a veteran to work there. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Kondos by e-mail at the following address:
"I'd like to open the office and get it operational and staffed within six weeks," Kondos said.