In need of home, Poulsbo veteran service office to close

Vic Schiavone, a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, left, listens as service volunteer Earl Jones, Navy retired, works with Army veteran John Watte and his wife, Joan, Thursday at the American Legion Post 245 room at Poulsbo City Hall. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
Vic Schiavone, a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, left, listens as service volunteer Earl Jones, Navy retired, works with Army veteran John Watte and his wife, Joan, Thursday at the American Legion Post 245 room at Poulsbo City Hall.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

POULSBO — A veteran service office in Poulsbo that has assisted more than 1,000 military members and their spouses will close this month after a search for a suitable place to relocate turned up empty.

Volunteers from American Legion Poulsbo Post 245 said they were unable to find a new permanent home after the National Guard armory on Jensen Way was shuttered and sold in 2009.

The service office is operating out of the basement of City Hall, but that building will be vacated next month when the city moves into its newly built municipal campus at the corner of Moe Street and Third Avenue.

Both office locations were provided at no cost, but a recent survey of available spaces turned up monthly rents at nothing less than $1,000, volunteers said.

The office will close Oct. 14.

"There's a profound sadness that this office is being closed down," said service officer Earl Jones.

The space the office occupies in City Hall was a temporary arrangement in conjunction with Kitsap County, which owns a portion of the building, city Finance Director Debbie Booher said. The office was moved there with the understanding it would search for different long-term arrangements.

The office is open one day a week, and typically receives up to 10 visitors a day. Assistance to veterans is free. Many of those seeking services hope to secure compensation for physical or mental disabilities associated with active duty, and need help navigating paperwork.

"Veterans who come to us are usually not confident they can deal with the (Department of Veterans Affairs) on their own," Jones said.

He increasingly sees veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as a rise in the number of female veterans in need. A number of Vietnam-era service members are dealing with the effects of Agent Orange, Jones said. He also receives visits from veterans of World War II.

"There is no average veteran. And there's a lot of desperation when they come in here," Jones said. "Some of the thrill that we get from the job is we're quite literally dealing with heroes."

The office is managed by four volunteers, including Terry Inman, who came to Jones as a client in 2008 and decided, after receiving the guidance he needed, to give back.

Inman has since helped widows file death benefit claims, and has presented them with flags in honor of their spouse's service.

"They will almost always break down," he said, "and I join them."

Service officers also screen candidates for Kitsap County's Veteran's Assistance fund, and coordinate one-time American Legion grants for veterans with children. Economically depressed veterans can also apply for assistance.

"The economy is not good. More and more people are falling between the cracks, and this is the last rung of the safety ladder," Jones said.

Inman said the office has become a place of camaraderie, where members from all five branches of the military share stories and tell jokes.

It opened in 2001 under the guidance of service officer Birger Sather and his wife Barbara.

There are few similar services in the area, aside from an American Legion office in Bremerton and a state-run veterans home in Retsil.

Clients come from Quilcene, Port Angeles and Gray's Harbor, said volunteer Victor Schiavone. The office is run with little overhead. It requires two private rooms and a waiting area, and the post provides phone and utility services. Other supplies are donated.

If a new location is found the office can be reopened, Schiavone said.

In the meantime, volunteers will stay in contact with their established clients, but won't be able to take on new ones. Inman said he regularly meets veterans unaware they are eligible for assistance.

"The need is still there," he said.

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