Citing an “astronomical” case load and a need for immediate assistance, Asher Diehl, Newton County Veterans Office representative, asked the Board of Supervisors to approve adding an additional staff member without additional funding for the position. Diehl, who runs the one person office, told the board she was agreeable to taking a one-third cut in pay to provide funding for the assistance position to be filled by Betsy Nelson.
“I’m requesting her to be my assistant because our caseload is just pretty astronomical,” Diehl said. “The reason I picked Miss Betsy is she has gone through the VA system where she was denied for years and years something she was entitled to. She continued to fight and some odd years later finally was awarded and then we’ve been fighting since then to get it back dated.”
Diehl told the board that 80 percent of the time the VA wrongfully denies benefits and she spends most of her time gathering medical records of veterans, evidence of their service, medical journals, and supporting claims. Diehl said with the additional research out of the 22 cases she has worked on 20 have received higher ratings for temporary disability or individual unemployability. But, this takes a lot of time and Diehl said her office is tracking 340 cases in Newton County and there are about 1,100 that haven’t contacted her yet. She also said there were 135 return calls she needs to make to those that have reached out to her office seeking assistance.
“I have not had one veteran come in and ask to make a claim that once I investigated their stuff, went through their medical files, they were eligible to have a successful claim.”
She also reported that she had 59 open claims that she is working with 32 requiring medical research or VA law. She said she and her family have volunteered 177 hours researching and documenting veterans’ healthcare issues, but the task has been overwhelming at times.
Diehl also noted that she is spending many volunteer hours helping veterans and their caregivers in their homes because moving them to the nearest veterans’ nursing home in Kosciusko was not an option because family members wanted to be with their loved ones but couldn’t travel those distances.
Diehl said she was also spending time looking for various community agencies or volunteers to provide some services at reduced or no cost to veterans with immediate home health needs. Diehl’s office is open 9-4 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but she often has to leave the office to meet non-ambulatory veterans and needs Nelson in the office.
The board unanimously approved Diehl’s request to add Nelson.
In other business, the board again tabled any decision regarding HB 1163 which requires all counties to issue construction permits to contractors building in the unincorporated areas of the county. In their previous meeting the supervisors declined to take any action citing gaps in the newly passed law.
Several questions from the supervisors were brought to attorney Jason Mangum seeking clarification on the several issues surrounding the issuing of permits. The main concerns from supervisors was who would issue the permit, the liability to the county, and the amount of fees. None of these were specifically addressed in the bill.
“If we just say go to the 911 office, they’re going to assign you a permit, in all honesty it’s still no good,” board president Joe Alexander said. “We don’t have anybody down there that has ever been a licensed permitter.” Mangum said that most counties are appointing their purchasing clerk to issue permits. Mangum said the board’s only real decision in the matter was to assign the task and set a fee for contractors.
Alexander said he thought the logical solution regarding issuing of permits would be to have the licenses issued through the Chancery Clerk’s office since anything land related usually came into his office, but again he brought up concerns over what the contractor would have to submit before a license was issued.
“All they have to do is provide their certificate number and their tax payer id and their contractor’s license or certificate of responsibility,” Mangrum said.
Alexander said the contractor’s certificate was useless but because the Mississippi Legislature passed it without providing specifics of what the county would be required to do.
“All you’re doing is giving them a piece of paper that says they are a licensed contractor,” Mangrum said with regard to a question regarding the county’s liability.
“You’ve got no teeth to the law. You’ve got nobody to go do a home inspection, but we’ve got to sign these things for you to get somebody to build a shed on your place,” Alexander said.
Beat 4 Supervisor Charles Godwin asked Mangum what would happen if a contractor didn’t get a permit and who would go out and follow up to see that a contractor had a license. Mangum said he supposed a licensed contractor would turn the unlicensed contractor in.
“It’s a check with no balance,” Godwin said. “If they didn’t give the county the authority to do anything other than issue permits then they haven’t done anything in my opinion. It puts the onus on us to issue these things with no charge.”
Mangum disagreed on the point of no fees based on an email exchange from several county attorneys. He read out a wide range of permit fees from $50 in Perry county to $150 in Jones county. “Some are doing $20 or $25,” Mangum said. “It’s all over the map.”
The board agreed to table the matter after asking County Administrator Steve Seale to make inquires with the State Auditor’s office regarding permit fees.