With the spread of COVID-19 a concern for many local governments, local officials have closed county courthouses to the public. However, county departments, such as Veterans Affairs, are still open by appointment and offering the same service and assistance.
Sue Rich, County Veterans Service Office for Veterans Affairs in Washington County said a large majority of her clients are in at-risk category due to age. For that reason, the department is taking every precaution to keep them safe.
“Washington County has a large population of elderly veterans. Right now I am trying to do everything by phone or email and that seems to be working,” she said.
This change went into effect Tuesday, March 17 at 12 p.m. when the county supervisors announced they would close the courthouse to the public. Individual county department heads who operate in buildings not in the courthouse were allowed to make their own decisions.
In Henry County, Veterans Affairs Director Roger Pittsenbarger reported having the same set up. Appointments are required and when the client arrives at the door, they need to call to be let in. No public access without prior appointment is being granted at either location.
Rich said the change has been challenging, but for the most part people have been understanding. The process is gradually taking longer due to having to transition from face-to-face meetings to phone meetings but everyone is adjusting accordingly.
Pittsenbarger agreed, saying being able to sit down and talk with veterans made things much easier but for now, safety is number one.
“We just can’t have them come in,” he said. “It was a lot easier beforehand but it’s more detailed right now to the point they have to call and set an appointment.”
In Washington County Rich said she has anywhere from 25-30 ongoing cases for claims for veterans that she and staff are working on. Claims can be any prolonged injury, such as complications from a broken bone, the veteran suffered while serving.
The Iowa City VA Health Care System still is open but restrictions apply, according to its website. Everyone who enters the building will be prescreened for COVID-19 symptoms.
No appointments have been canceled or rescheduled, according to a news release on the hospital’s website. The organization is actively monitoring the situation and will adjust policy accordingly.
“Veterans who are concerned they may have symptoms of COVID-19, flu or cold should contact us at 319-338-0581 before coming to their appointment. Clinical staff are available to provide 24/7 virtual care and support, including nurse advice and triage. This service is available at no cost to Veterans enrolled for VA health care,” the release states.
For low income veterans in the county seeking assistance at this time, pension is available, Rich said. Right now there has been no interruption in this service and Rich said she felt the county would be able to sustain that benefit for the extend of the fiscal year.
“They can apply for unemployment depending on how long they worked (at their job) but people are going to get behind on their bills and they’re probably going to be contacting us,” she said.
Although the situation is less than ideal, Rich said the understanding and support from clients and the community is appreciated.
“I think people are pretty understanding of what’s going on and will take that to heart. We just want to do what’s best for the public,” she said. “We will do everything that we can as a county for the services that we provide to make sure people are safe during this.”