By HEATHER NELLIS
FONDA -- High demand for Montgomery County veterans services has officials looking to keep the department's doors open longer.
"When 2 o'clock comes, we have veterans sitting in the hallway. We can't just close the door," said Brenda Rava, the director of the Department of Youth, Alternatives to Incarceration, and Veterans Services. "They're lined up waiting at 9 a.m. most Tuesdays."
The Board of Supervisors' Health & Human Services Committee on Tuesday moved a resolution to change Veterans Service Agency Officer Dwight Thompson's position from part-time to full-time.
He'll be paid $36,000 annually.
That will eliminate hourly limitations so Thompson can get the work done.
Previously, he was limited to working 17.5 hours a week. Thompson was appointed in August 2011 as a part-time interim officer, due to the military leave of absence of the former officer.
But the volume of work isn't fit for a part-time position, Rava said.
In 2012, she said there was a 47 percent increase in the number of veterans served by the department.
This year, as an example, Rava said the department was only open 14 days in May, but Thompson wound up seeing an average of 19 veterans a day that month.
"Some of that is from outside counties ... But the gist of it is coming right here from our own counties," Rava said.
Thompson said it's tough to submit required paperwork for the increased volume of medical cases, pensions and other services in just 17.5 hours a week, causing him to work more than that.
However, Rava said that's draining the salary line item, putting services at risk for the remainder of the year.
If the paperwork sits on his desk, it opens the county up to lawsuits, Thompson said he learned at a recent training in Syracuse.
"They were cautioning all the veterans' service officers to make sure that they're processing applications on a timely basis," Thompson said of the aforementioned training. "If the application doesn't get to New York by the last day of the month, the veteran loses the whole next month for benefits. And with that, we'd be subject to malpractice."
Rava said the paperwork has to be filed by Thompson because he's the accredited officer. He's the only one the Veterans Administration will allow to file it.
Thompson currently has 36 active files on his desk, and that remains constant.
"Some go, but more come," Rava said.