Veterans services to go digital

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — The Surry County Veterans Services Department will soon enter into the technology age.

On Monday the county Board of Commissioners voted to allocate nearly $15,000 to give veteran service officers access to electronic charts in order to better serve the county’s veteran population.

“I have been trying for over a year to find a way to automate our office and bring it into the 21st century, and those costs are extremely expensive if we do it solo for just our department,” noted Mike Scott, veterans services director, in an email which was included in the agenda packets of commissioners.

Scott explained he had worked with Social Services Director Kristy Preston on a solution to transition his department from the use of paper charts to an all-electronic system.

Scott’s proposal was to use the Laserfiche server Preston’s department uses to house electronic records. The company will charge a fee of $10,200 to bring Scott’s department on board.

Scott noted a potential mistake made in his office could result in a veteran losing thousands of dollars in benefits.

“We have approximately 4,500 people in receipt of V.A. (Veterans Affairs) benefits, and we are signing up many new clients weekly, compounding our paper file system,” wrote Scott. “I rely exclusively on paper files and hand-written documentation in those files for tracking.”

Scott hopes the transition to electronic charts and files will minimize the possibility of his department making any costly mistakes for the veterans the office serves.

The second portion of Scott’s request, which commissioners also approved unanimously on Monday, was for $4,712.28 to purchase three tablets for the office.

According to Scott’s correspondence to the board, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is in the process of transitioning to an all electronic system for filing claims, appeals and other actions.

While the transition would not pose a problem for veterans who present themselves at the veterans services offices to file actions, many veterans can’t do that, according to Scott. Some veterans cannot travel, requiring home visits by Scott’s staff, and his staff also completes work for veterans at off-site events.

Veterans service officers complete paper copies of actions to file at such off-site visits and events. However, once the V.A. begins requiring those actions to be in electronic form, the tablets will make it possible for Scott’s office to meet the requirement.

The cost associated with the tablets will be alleviated to some extent by the removal of a budget request from Scott’s department in the 2017-18 fiscal year. He had intended to request about $2,700 to replace computers in his office. However, the tablets will also serve as desktop computers for staff.

In other business, commissioners approved a request from Bryan Cave, Surry County Cooperative Extension director, to serve in a similar capacity with another county, in addition to his duties here.

Cave will serve as interim extension director in Wilkes County beginning on April 1. He will serve in that capacity no further than July 1, and all compensation for the position will come from Wilkes County and the state.

County Manager Chris Knopf noted Cave is finishing up a stint as interim director in Stokes County.

As part of the board’s consent agenda, commissioners also approved a request from the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center to lease a new copier for its child health division.

According to the request, the copier there is no longer reparable. The department will lease a copier from Kelly Office Solutions at a cost of $2,186.96 per year, plus about one penny per copy made by the department.

The board also approved a resolution to hold its next meeting at an alternate location.

As has been the custom in recent years, the board will hold its second meeting of March at Elkin High School. That meeting will take place on March 20 at 6 p.m., and the school will serve dinner to the commissioners at 5 p.m.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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