A help center will soon open in the government building on Powder Springs Street in Marietta that also houses tag and title offices.
The Georgia Department of Veterans Services is a distinct entity from the national Department of Veterans Affairs, which has drawn fire this summer for its treatment of veterans, said Mike Boyce, a retired colonel in the Marine Corps.
“The VA is under a lot of scrutiny because of the poor services they’ve been providing,” Boyce said.
He said the problem with the VA is the way veterans enter the system to receive benefits.
“If you file your claim directly with the VA office, they might lose the claim,” Boyce said. “The administrative side of the VA is a disaster.”
Boyce, an east Cobb resident, said the new Department of Veterans Services center will help local veterans confused by the VA’s complicated procedures get the answers they need.
He noted two full-time counselors from the state organization will be available at the new center to answer veterans’ questions about benefits, provide them with all the necessary forms and guide them through the application process.
John Reida, director of Cobb’s property management department, said commissioners signed off on a $49,000 construction plan in February to bring the office space into compliance with the standards required by the Department of Veterans Services. Boyce said it involved meeting health requirements and specifications included in the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as wheelchair accessibility. Contractors included interview rooms for counselors.
Reida said the five-year lease will cost the state organization $10,000 per year in rental fees, which he said is estimated to be “sufficient to reimburse the county for build-out costs.”
In addition, the Department of Veterans Services will pay the county just over $2,000 each year to cover the projected cost of repairs.
Reida said the state organization would be responsible for its share of utilities and services, such as Internet connection and a janitorial staff.
He said the county expects to collect about $60,000 over the course of the lease’s five-year term.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell estimated the new veteran’s center has been in discussions for a “couple of years.”
She said Boyce and veterans groups in Cobb were “very instrumental” in securing the space for a center.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “It’s a great location for all of Cobb’s veterans to be able to access.”
Birrell said she is proud to be welcoming the new office into the county.
“My personal feeling is that we can’t do enough for our veterans,” she said. “They’re the reason we have the opportunities and the freedom that we do in this county.”
Boyce did not provide an estimate of when the center would officially open its doors, but said the process was “very close” to completion.
“I’ve just been a helping hand,” the retiree said of his role in bringing the center to Cobb.
“Taking care of veterans is my crusade right now.”