It’s hard to miss the bright-red lettering on the storefront office along business Rt. 33A that says Fairfield County Veterans Services. That’s the point.
The commission that helps military veterans apply for their federal benefits and gives them emergency help with food and rent is about to become more visible and, the director hopes, more accessible.
The county Veterans Service Commission plans to move this month from its cramped office in a remodeled old house in downtown Lancaster to roomier, modern office space in the Greenfield Center strip mall just north of the city.
The county commissioners recently approved leasing the office space at 3044 Columbus-Lancaster Rd. N.W. (also known as Rt. 33A) for five years for $4,800 a month.
The county owns the small, brick house at 227 E. Main St., where the first floor has been the commission’s office for years — the commission was tucked in the basement of the county administration building before that — so there was no rent.
There also was no privacy and little parking for the veterans who came in seeking help.
The new office has all that, said veterans service Director Park Russell, including individual offices where veterans can discuss confidential financial and emotional issues with benefits specialists and counselors, and a room that will have several computers.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is requiring veterans to complete more forms online, Russell said, yet “not every veteran has a computer, and the older veterans are not computer-savvy.”
The location along business Rt. 33A also will be more convenient for veterans visiting the office from Pickerington, Canal Winchester, Lithopolis, Baltimore and other areas outside the county seat, Russell said.
The new office is about 2 miles north of the VA clinic on the same road. The commission had hoped to lease office space next door to the clinic, but that deal fell through. Setting up shop in Greenfield Center became the next best thing, Russell said.
The commission operates on a 0.5-mill property tax. Its 2016 budget is about $1.6 million, Russell said.
The funding supports four benefits specialists, including Russell, plus a receptionist; all are veterans. Among the county’s approximately 12,300 veterans, about 5,000 have sought help from the commission, he said.
All 88 counties have veterans service commissions, which were established under a state law whose origin dates to 1886, when Ohio’s leaders saw fit to help Civil War veterans and their families.
The commission’s former office in the old brick house is to be used by county Child Protective Services workers for supervised visits between parents and children, county Facilities Manager Dennis Keller said.
“It’s a very homey environment for that,” Keller said, because the space has a kitchen and a living-room area, suitable for making popcorn and playing board games.
Such visits now are held in the Job and Family Services office.
Keller said the change in locations will be good for both the veterans commission and the child-welfare agency’s supervised-visit unit.
“I think it’s going to work out,” he said.