Merger of vets agencies would still leave options for locals

GREENFIELD — If Franklin County veterans agencies decide to merge, local veterans will be given the option of using the downtown Greenfield Veterans Resource and Referral Center or a satellite office.

Greenfield Veterans Service Agent Laura Thorne said there are currently offices in Turners Falls, Orange and Shelburne Falls.

Thorne said a consolidation of the Greenfield center, which serves Greenfield and Leyden, and the Central Franklin County Veterans District, which serves the county’s other 24 towns, would not change that. Satellite offices or Town Hall hours would be maintained where they are already offered.

“We want to enhance our veterans’ experiences with us, not create more hardships,” said Thorne.

Greenfield’s veterans center Director Tim Niejadlik was not available for comment on Thursday, but said in an interview earlier this week that discussions about merging have been going on for more than two years.

The Greenfield office is currently run by Niejadlik and Thorne.

She said if a merger happens, two more full-time employees would be added to the main office in Greenfield.

It is not yet clear, because the issue is only in the discussion phase, whether Mark Fitzpatrick and Leo Parent would join the Greenfield office, at least for the next year or so.

Parent is retired and works part-time in the Turners Falls office, while Fitzpatrick, who also works there, said he is planning on retiring next year.

The Greenfield office offers everything from fliers and brochures for veterans who are looking for information but want to keep their business private, to veterans who want help or counseling every step of the way with everything from health care and housing to education and employment.

The Greenfield office has three computers with bookmarks to the sites most veterans use. Thorne said veterans may use the computers themselves or get help from her or Niejadlik, and that won’t change.

The local veterans agencies are not yet sure how much merging might save the county in the long -run, but said it will most likely save something.

Thorne said the central and satellite offices will also continue to enlist volunteers to help with daily chores and helping veterans.

Mayor William Martin has pushed for such a merger for several years. A veteran himself, Martin has always said he believes it would benefit veterans to have services out of one central office — a one-stop-shop.

Martin said it makes sense to locate a central office in Greenfield, because it is the hub of the county.

If that happens, though, the mayor said it will be one more reason for the town to try to expedite construction of a municipal parking garage.

Thorne said a board will be created, which consists of one member from each of the 26 Franklin County towns, and that board will eventually vote on whether to merge.

Martin said the idea will go before selectmen in each of the towns and they will appoint a representative to the board.

If the board approves the merger, it will go to the state for approval.

Martin said he does not believe the state would reject a request to merge.

If there is a merger, the central office and its satellite offices would continue to help veterans with health care, housing, insurance, mental health services, burial benefits, job searches, benefit searches, help for eligible dependents and access to other veterans websites.

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