“What a difference a year makes.”
That phrase aptly reflects the success and great service inroads that the Lackawanna County Veterans Affairs office attained in 2012.
Under the guidance of director Robert Tuffy, the office has experienced tremendous growth and success in providing onsite and offsite programs, service and benefits to our areas retired and active military personnel.
“The incredible success that we have enjoyed in aiding our veterans is a credit to our staff’s commitment to assist those who have served our country,” said Commissioner Jim Wansacz. “We have taken our programs “to the streets” and gone to where our veterans are – at home, in the hospital or at an assisted living facility. We have provided valuable help with programs, explained benefits, or assisted in completing various applications or forms.”
“We understand that sometimes everyone needs help, has a question, or requires information pertaining to service records or other military benefits and can’t get to us,” explained Commissioner Corey D. O’Brien. “Not only are we honored to help our veterans with these and other issues through our Veterans Affairs Office, but we will go to them and their families to make it as easy as possible.”
“The freedoms and safety that we enjoy are a direct result of veterans and those who are defending our country today. We appreciate their service and are committed to doing all that we can to help them with whatever issues they may have, provide benefit assistance, or direct them to the proper organizations or agencies that can offer help,” said Commissioner Patrick M. O’Malley.
Last year, the Veterans Affairs Office was moved into The Scranton Electric Building, saving the County over $30,000. Several veterans organizations and affiliated groups were concerned about the move, but it has worked out tremendously.
The relocation proved to be not only frugal, but very beneficial. The office has more space to offer assistance, elevator service, reserved parking and the convenience to the main courthouse for other business transactions.
While the location has worked out well for those who come to the office, it’s the personal visits that have become the trademark of the office. Staff has initiated a tremendous outreach program for the veterans and their families. Meetings have been conducted wherever necessary to explain vital programs and benefits.
Speaking of benefits, Anissa Fetchen, Veterans Service Officer and Office Coordinator, has helped the organization to make great strides in providing veterans with valuable financial support. In 2011-12, claims reached $2,464,000. In fiscal 2012-13, the benefits assistance stands at a record $2,551,120 and rising. The Veterans Office expects the success to continue and the current record-setting pace to be surpassed in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Ms. Fetchen has also made presentations to various community groups, spreading the word on the office’s operation and services.
In 2007, Mr. Tuffy undertook a major restoration project at Cathedral Cemetery, replacing over 3,500 missing flag holders from veterans’ graves, painted flag poles, and installed brand new flags. This is in addition to the office’s other military graves’ ceremonial decorating activities.
Other key services provided by the office include: death benefits, pension benefits, veterans disability benefits, homeless veterans assistance, tax exemption for 100% service-connected disabled war time veterans, veterans DD 214 military records checks, and government headstones or markers.