Veterans applaud county's decision
Roughly five years ago, the Douglas County Veterans Service Office was moved under the umbrella of the Social Services Office.
This meant that the veterans service officer was no longer the head of the department, and reported to the Social Services director instead of directly to the county board.
This didn't sit well with area veterans, who did not want the veterans office to be associated with Social Services.
Jacob Turner was hired nearly a year ago as the new veterans service officer and the Douglas County Commissioners gave him a one-year probationary period before deciding what to do with the department.
After hearing from veterans at its Tuesday, April 2, regular board meeting, the commissioners voted to change the Veterans Service Office back to a stand-alone department, with Turner the head of the department.
This action was met by a loud round of applause from the room full of veterans who attended the meeting.
Veteran Grant Haugen, who has worked with the commissioners on veterans issues over the past couple of years, lobbied for the change. He told the board that a group of veterans got together, called all of the other counties in the state and found out that 76 of the 87 counties had stand-alone Veterans Service Offices.
"That's 87 percent that have stand-alone departments," Haugen said.
Haugen told the commissioners that after sitting down with Turner on numerous occasions, he felt that Turner is doing a good job within the parameters he has to work with.
Ray Kallstrom, who retired as the veterans service officer about five years ago, said that being a department head would be "a whole lot easier" for Turner and that it would be best for him to report directly to the board. Kallstrom added that when he served in that position, he rarely had to go to the commissioners with any issues.
Another veteran who spoke at the meeting said, "Mr. Turner was hired by the board. It's time to take the handcuffs off and give him the tools to let him do the job."
Commissioner Heather Larson said that although she feels Turner is responsible enough and capable enough to run his own department, she doesn't want anything to fall through the cracks. Laurie Bonds, director of the Social Services Office, said that she wasn't looking for more work, but that being a department head is a huge job and she was not in favor of the change. Bonds said the Veterans Service Office was in good shape under the Social Services umbrella.
County Board Chairman Charlie Meyer said the commissioners appreciated what Bonds has done for the department.
"On behalf of the board, we appreciate you and thank you for everything," he said.
The board vote was unanimous, and the change will take effect Monday, April 8.
Turner was a combat engineer in the U.S. Army and as an Army specialist, he completed two tours in Afghanistan and received numerous medals and commendations. He holds an associates degree in fire science from Kaplan University.