- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The office that helps military veterans in East Baton Rouge Parish has moved into a new home.

The Advocate reported (https://bit.ly/1qWUA3y) the city-parish had leased a building for the office for more than three decades, but there were complaints the building had become dilapidated.

With windows that let the sun shine in, carpet that isn’t tearing away from the floors and freshly painted walls, the third-floor office at 1755 Florida Blvd. is a far cry from the old location on North Boulevard.

Last month, Department of Veterans Affairs regional manager Earnest Buckner Jr. went to the Metro Council to voice his concerns about the building, where the office had operated since 1981. City-parish officials then acted.

“It was a long time coming, and we feel very grateful to have this,” said Tony Coleman, a veterans services counselor.

“I’m glad the city-parish government stepped up to the plate and made something happen,” said David LaCerte, deputy secretary for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. “I’m glad we finally got traction.”

LaCerte said he had several concerns about the old site.

“If we have our own employees painting and scrubbing moldy walls, there’s a problem,” he said.

The building also leaked when it rained, didn’t stay warm in cold weather and had an outdated electrical system.

“Concerns like that are life-safety issues,” LaCerte said.

Under Louisiana law, parishes must provide space for the state Veterans Affairs offices to operate locally.

Coleman said the new office will help workers do their jobs better. An estimated 500 to 600 veterans visit the office each month.

The office helps veterans secure monetary benefit, often serving in an advocacy role to ensure they get proper entitlements. The assistance the office provides spurs an estimated $54 million in benefits going to the parish’s veterans, LaCerte said.

“A good number who come in aren’t aware of all the benefits,” Coleman said.

Workers also help when veterans need medical care, home loans, educational benefits and other services.

Many come to the office when they are frustrated by the complex federal bureaucracy.

“That’s where we really prove our worth,” Coleman said.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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