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South Hill veterans benefits office slated to close / November 15, 2017

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services has announced plans to close its South Hill Benefits Office in the next few weeks. The exact date of the shutdown is yet to be determined.

South Hill Town Manager Kim Callis shared the news Monday night at the regular monthly meeting of Town Council.

“We have been informed that the Virginia Department of Veterans Services plans to close its South Hill office on West Danville Street in the coming weeks and move to permanent space in a medical office in Emporia,” Callis said. “While the DVS indicates it will continue providing service on an itinerant basis in South Hill, we do not want to see this office close as service hours in South Hill will be dramatically reduced to likely one day per week.”

Currently, the office located at 1361 W. Danville St. is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Callis said last month, staffers at the office met with over 100 veterans and fielded a similar number of calls from veterans in other parts of the service area, which includes the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Southampton and Sussex and the city of Emporia.

The clientele consists of former military men and women seeking assistance with benefits and services they earned while serving in a branch of the armed forces. Many, though not all, suffer from serious health issues, or lack access to reliable transportation that can take them to Emporia should they need to see someone about their benefits or required services.

“We have been communicating with Senator Ruff, Delegate Wright, Gail Moody [Southside Planning District Commission Executive Director], local realtors, DVS personnel and others to seek a solution so that the South Hill office will continue to operate as it does now,” Callis said.

He explained adding that one of the reasons given for closing the South Hill office is the high cost of monthly rent.

If the South Hill office shuts down, Callis said he was told the DVS would seek a free location in the area in which they could provide itinerant services. He also suggested that he was not expecting to succeed in his efforts to keep the local DVS office open.

“It’s hard to put brakes on the train,” said Callis.

Earlier this month, Brandy Disbennett, western regional manager for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, was scheduled to speak to the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors about the proposed closing, but her appearance was pushed back to an unspecified date.

The pending closures were discussed inside the DVS and by its oversight board back in March of this year. A review of the minutes of the Veterans Service Board meeting from that time establishes that plans to shutter the South Hill and other local benefit offices were shared with board members by Steven Combs, Deputy Commissioner representing the Department of Veterans Services, and also by Tom Herthel, Benefits Director.

At the March meeting of the VSB, Combs said the relocation of several benefits offices to co-locate with Virginia Veterans Family Support (VVFS) offices was “a very exciting opportunity to create synergy for DVS and making it easier for the veterans to receive everything they need in one stop.”

The minutes also reflect that Herthel “gave an update on their [benefit offices] partnership with VVFS and staff relocating to some of their offices in the next year and ran through which offices were new and which would be co-located with VVFS and two with VVFS and VETE [Veterans Education Transition & Employment].”

The minutes further suggest that the department may open new offices in Virginia with consolidated services for veterans, but there’s no indication that any office will be established in the immediate area to replace the South Hill location. VVFS is headquartered in downtown Richmond and operates two long-term nursing care facilities for Virginia veterans, in Richmond and Roanoke.

Aside from South Hill, DVS operates nearby benefits offices in Danville, Petersburg, Lynchburg and Henrico. The future status of these local offices is unknown.

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