The Board of Lewis County Commissioners (BOCC) went against the recommendation of the Veterans Advisory Board during a Tuesday morning meeting by choosing not to amend a grant contract between the county’s Veteran Relief Fund and a peer counseling arrangement by the Veterans Memorial Museum.
The program, Veterans Journey Forward, is offering peer counseling and other services at no cost to the veterans. The original contract with the county awarded $75,000, with $37,500 in the beginning and an additional chunk of the same amount after three months, provided the museum could reach certain benchmarks.
George Dodd, chair of the advisory board, told the commissioners the new program was valuable and necessary in Lewis County to fill a services void. However, he and other members of his committee felt the start-up cost was too high, namely because of the percentage being put toward the salaries of the program’s employees. The advisory board recommended the BOCC change the contract to offer just 30% of the original $37,500 ask.
The recommendation was duly noted, said Public Health & Social Services Director Meja Handlen. Some of the contract’s benchmarks had been made as of Tuesday, she said, while others had not. However, after several “robust” conversations with Veterans Journey Forward, she said she felt the program was in a good place to receive more funding.
“The intent of the program is to provide services to all Lewis County veterans who are in need of support and the advisory board totally agrees with that (mission),” Handlen told The Chronicle. “Their program is ambitious, and we want to make sure that ambition is matched with sustainability.”
Directed by Chehalis veteran Jesse Lloyd, the program employs Lloyd full-time and one administrative assistant who logs about 38 work hours per month. Chip Duncan, executive director of the Veterans Memorial Museum, said he was a de-facto staff member for the program but had chosen not to log his hours because he didn’t want or expect to be paid for his time.
“I’d love to be compensated, but I’m not. Because I run a nonprofit, I know how these things work,” Duncan said during Tuesday’s meeting. “The work that I’ve done, I have not reported on or felt that I needed to report on just because of what we were being asked for. From now on … we will be communicating with the Veterans Relief Fund on exactly everything that we’re doing.”
He later told The Chronicle overhead costs for making other products requires keeping salaries low during the start-up phase. However, the program’s “product” in this case is healthy veterans and successful counseling, suicide prevention and helping get people into stable housing. These things require a focused staff, but not necessarily overhead costs, he said.
Commissioner Lindsey Pollock asked if Lloyd had connected with Great Rivers Behavioral Health as a possible source for guidance and funding. He said he wasn’t aware of their ability to provide those things previously, but said he would reach out to them going forward.
Commissioners Sean Swope and Scott Brummer both thanked the advisory board for their recommendation, but expressed they were not in favor of limiting the grant to just 30%.
Brummer added that in the starting phases of a new program, it’s best to go “all in.” The board also agreed to add program updates as a line item in their monthly meetings as the Board of Health, which Swope said would add “accountability” and ensure a scheduled time to review the contract.
Pollock added she would like to see “a lot of collaboration” between the program and the Veterans Advisory Board because “the advisory board has experience with what has not worked in the past. And we don’t want to repeat those failures. We really do want this program to succeed.”
Handlen added that going forward, she and the advisory board would be working with Veterans Journey Forward on securing other grants to ensure the program’s sustainability.