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Rising demand drives up cost of Scituate veterans programs

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 25, 2014 08:02 PM

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Scituate officials are grappling with high veterans' costs for the fourth year in a row, but it’s a trend administrators don’t expect to last into the long-term.

Veteran Services has been on the rise in Scituate since 2010, when the town only administered services to three veterans.

Since then, client numbers have grown as high as 19, with two more applications in the works.

“It has grown. Why is due to the economy,” said Scituate Veterans Service Officer Donald Knapp. “High cost of living, and you’re talking most claimants are widows or veterans themselves that are older, so they are reliant on the security.”

The town’s costs have climbed along with the client numbers. In fiscal 2011, which ended in June 2011, the budgeted was $37,197. That rose to $94,981 in fiscal '12.

Part of the increase reflected the salary of Knapp, who was hired on a full-time basis to grapple with high caseload, previously handled through a regionalized Veterans Service Agency with Hingham.

Costs have gone up since. The budget rose to $181,770 in fiscal 2013, and $221,090 in fiscal 2014. Knapp said the request for next fiscal year is slightly lower at $218,602.

While the economy has spurred some clients to reach out, awareness has also caused an uptick.

“[The state] has been putting a lot of money into advertising to make people aware that we’re here,” Knapp said.

Knapp’s increased presence in Town Hall has also opened eyes. People doing their taxes will often walk in to talk about potential veterans benefits. Some will call his office on behalf of family members, he said.

Rising medical costs and dwindling reimbursement budgets have also increased costs.

According to budgeting documents for fiscal 2014 available on the town website, though 75 percent of support benefits are reimbursable by the state, reimbursements were cut 1.3 percent for part of the fiscal 2014. Payments are often delayed well over a year.

The funding has been a challenge within the budget, Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said to selectmen in a budget overview meeting. Yet Knapp said costs should eventually decline with the dwindling veteran population.

“In the future, those numbers should be decreasing,” Knapp said.

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