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Focus needs to be on helping veterans

It’s hard to reach a middle ground when people are busy fortifying imagined battle lines.

Taylor County Veteran Service Officer Shellie Shaw does an outstanding job in helping local veterans receive the benefits they have earned through their military service.

Shaw, along with benefit specialist Nikki Sherman, are likewise outstanding in their commitment to going above and beyond the minimum level required. They are passionate in their support of veterans and in serving the needs of veterans and their families.

These are good things. They are exactly the traits you want with people in those positions. In an ideal world, every department head and manager across both public and private sectors would come to their tasks with that level of enthusiasm and dedication.

Viewed solely through the lens of the work being done with and for veterans, it is alarming when it appears that the office is under constant siege. This leads to questions on the intentions of those behind those perceived attacks and fosters an adversarial relationship built on distrust.

The challenge is to step back several paces and take the effort to view the interactions through a broader lens that sees the office and its staff as just one small part of the complex and constantly moving machine that is county government. As any mechanic will tell you, having one part off-kilter negatively impacts the smooth operation of the machine as a whole.

This is not to excuse, or accuse, anyone for their conduct and interactions with departments and staff, but to simply recognize that it is easy to get hyperfocused on one area and lose sight of the proverbial forest through the trees. This is true at both the governance and staff levels.

Members of the veterans service committee and the county board in general are just as committed as the CVSO staff to making sure veterans get the assistance they need and deserve.

At the same time, they must be equally committed to ensuring the county roads are plowed, crime is kept down, those in crisis receive the life saving care they need, the court system runs, the county’s buildings are maintained and that the dams don’t fail. They must do all of this facing the same skyrocketing costs as everyone else, while having a fixed income by state-imposed revenue limits and a mandate to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money.

All this said, there are wide areas of middle ground. It is abundantly clear that more time and resources are needed for the CVSO staff. As budgets are being developed for next year, the county board must look at the costs involved and make it a priority. Reclassifying Shaw’s position from hourly to salary is a no-brainer that should happen as soon as they can get it on an agenda. Likewise, the move of the veterans office to expand fully into the new office space across the hall from the current office should be done swiftly to address the longstanding privacy concerns and create a better balance between the access the public deserves and the privacy clients need.

All those involved must work toward a middle ground that focuses less on assigning blame or labeling people as enemies or allies and instead focus on the common goal of providing the highest level of service possible to area residents.

Members of The Star News editorial board include Publisher Carol O’Leary, General Manager Kris O’Leary and News Editor Brian Wilson.