Like so many others in our communities, many of Cattaraugus County’s veterans have been impacted by the coronavirus.
Steve McCord, director of the county’s Veterans Service Office, said in the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 restrictions forced more electronic communication over face-to-face meetings.
“We scan and email forms claims to the VA because the Buffalo regional office is still closed due to COVID,” he said.
There are about 7,000 veterans in the county. “We still have some World War II and Korean War veterans,” he said. Many Vietnam-era veterans are now in their 70s.
“Like everyone, we had a 50% reduction in our workforce,” McCord said. “We kept the office open. I came into the office every day. Kristen Porter, the other veterans service officer, worked from home.
“We have done a lot more with the veterans electronically,” McCord said. “Now we can see only one person at a time in the office, so you have to have an appointment.”
McCord also shut down satellite office visits in March due to coronavirus concerns.
“I just started them back up in Randolph, Gowanda and Franklinville,” he said. “Starting on the 19th, I’ll be at the Little Valley VFW every third Thursday of the month. We are asking people to set up appointments for the satellite offices, too.”
The coronavirus stimulus checks that went out last spring presented some unusual problems for some veterans — particularly those living on VA benefits that are nontaxable, McCord said.
“The stimulus checks went through the IRS,” he said. “If you don’t file a tax return with Internal Revenue, you don’t automatically get a check like most everyone else. One veteran, a woman, just got her stimulus check in October.”
A lot of vets have become unemployed due to business closings. Many of them had the same problems contacting the New York State labor Department as many other residents who lost their jobs in the pandemic.
McCord referred vets who were having trouble with the unemployment phone system to someone in the Labor Department.
Jessica Wilson of the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer-to-Peer program “grabbed the bull by the horns and made suire vets weren’t going hungry,” McCord said. She started by lining up restaurants to aid Western New York heroes and has recently been obtaining food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is distributed to veterans regularly in Little Valley.
Peacetime vets often get pushed aside. Not in McCord’s office. Any veteran looking for a review of their benefits should contact the Veterans Service Office at 701-3298 to set up an appointment. Be sure to leave a voicemail with your name and contact information if there is no answer.
Office staff may be on the phone or with another veteran. McCord suggests such a review every couple of years due to changes in rules and benefits.
“We’ve got a great batch of vets,” he said. “Everyone is unique in their own way and should be proud of their service.”