Volunteers for vets quit after county drops stipend

Why doesn’t Douglas County, Minn., want to pay for the drivers who help veterans get to their medical appointments?

The Alexandria Echo Press says the county commissioners eliminated the $40-a-day stipend to the volunteers in September. Since then, the number of volunteers dropped from five to just two.

It’s not a big expense. It involves about 100 trips a year and the county spent only $2,760 on the program in 2017.

Douglas County Commissioner Owen Miller says the remaining volunteers use a county van to drive veterans to medical appointments at the Veterans Administration clinics in St. Cloud, Minn., Minneapolis, or Fargo, N.D., and they’re still given meal money, courtesy of the county.

Grant Haugen, a member of the Veterans Council, told the Echo Press he’s found a patchwork of different policies in Minnesota’s 87 counties when it comes to getting veterans to their appointments.

Haugen said he was told by one of the commissioners, whom he did not name, that the commissioners were just looking out for the county and were getting rid of non-mandated programs. He was told that the volunteer drivers were not mandated and that is why the county discontinued the stipend.

“If that’s the case, why give yourselves a raise from $75 to $100?” Haugen said, questioning the commissioner’s decision to increase their own per diem rates for days that they attend meetings. “Why take away from the drivers?”

Haugen and others frustrated by this issue have been in contact with the Minnesota Department of Labor, the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust and several others to try and get answers.

Haugen, in a packet of information provided to the newspaper, said, “We, as veterans, are seeking the continued support of the County Board and would like to encourage the County Board to continue the program through a process of part-time employees for the county, who would provide transportation for veterans.”

“We haven’t shut the door on the vets,” commissioner Jim Stratton said. “We are working on it, but sometimes it takes time to come up with an amicable solution for all parties involved.”