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Veterans Affairs Task Force Holds First Meeting

By Larry Jones
January 28, 2013


As Chairman of the Conference of Mayors Veterans Affairs Task Force, Auburn Mayor Peter Lewis opened the first meeting by reminding mayors that our veterans have made enormous sacrifices to ensure our national security, and they have earned and deserve our support when they reenter our communities. This new generation of veterans has gone on many tours of duty and when they get out, many will come back with problems and will need support to make a smooth transition back into local communities. “But the other part is that veterans bring value to our communities,” he said. He explained that veterans qualify for numerous federal benefits, including education, job training, health care and assistance to start small businesses. He said these are federal dollars that are spent in local communities which support the local economy. Veterans also help attract new businesses because they are highly trained, skilled dependable workers.

To assist veterans in his community, Lewis told mayors he encouraged veterans to apply for FHA 203 b loans to rehab a house and then buy it with a VA loan. He said the city had a bunch of abandoned properties that the city took pictures of and then posted them on “the wall of shame.” The name of the lender, address of the property and the phone number for the lender were also listed so all the neighbors could call. This encouraged the owners to fix up or sell these homes. Veterans were told where these houses were located so they could benefit from the rehab and VA loans.

Veterans Affairs Benefits

Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary John Garcia told mayors that the VA has a budget of $140 billion and $100 billion of that goes into states and localities. He said over the next five years, he projects 2.5 million men and women will leave the military due to downsizing and the pull back of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot will have to be put in place to assist our troops in making the transition into our communities. Garcia explained that every state has a state director of veterans’ affairs who has funding to support veterans. And every state has veterans’ service officers whose main job is to find veterans and help them file for their benefits. The VA works with other federal agencies to make sure veterans get the support they need such as education, job training, housing and health care. Although a tremendous amount of federal assistance is available, many veterans are not taking advantage. He explained there are 22 million veterans in the nation but 65 percent have not filed for benefits they are eligible for. He urged mayors to work with the VA Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to help make veterans aware of the benefits available to them.

ederal assistance is available, many veterans are not taking advantage. He explained there are 22 million veterans in the nation but 65 percent have not filed for benefits they are eligible for. He urged mayors to work with the VA Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to help make veterans aware of the benefits available to them.

Defense Communities

Association of Defense Communities Director of Outreach Matt Borron told mayors that part of the mission of his organization is to help communities and states understand current and future challenges facing military families and veterans, and help to find effective solutions. He said there are five ways local governments can help returning veterans make the transition into their communities. He encouraged mayors to: (1) assess their environment and become aware of the various programs and services available in the local area; (2) organize by indexing services and programs and pooling resources; (3) use existing resources and partner with military installations; (4) plan for sustainability by not relying solely on scarce public dollars or one-time funds; and (5) let people help (understand there is wide'spread community support for veterans and their families) and partner with local business and industry for resources.