Chuck Elmore took the reins of Spokane County Veterans Services in January 2008, just as the country braced for an economic downturn it continues to claw its way out of.
He stared at a budget total that hadn’t changed significantly since the mid-1990s, he said. Since then, the county’s allotment for benefits to combat veterans – like rental assistance and food support – has more than doubled, from $330,000 annually to close to $750,000 this year.
The office, established by the state Legislature in the 1950s, moved to the top floor of the Spokane Regional Health District building this year and now houses representatives from various agencies offering benefits to veterans.
Still, Elmore said, there are significant issues facing the county’s 50,000 combat veterans. For the young, employment opportunities have dwindled in a stalled economy, and for veterans of Vietnam and prior conflicts, the challenge of living on a fixed income requires continued counseling, Elmore said.
“I can’t imagine how some of these people get by,” he said, adding that many of the aging veterans he sees are living on stipends of between $600 and $700 monthly.
Statewide, the unemployment rate for veterans of what’s known as the Gulf War II era, or those who served following the 9/11 attacks, was 13.9 percent in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent state-level figures. That’s almost 2 percentage points higher than the national average during the same period.
National unemployment figures for veterans released in the last two years indicate some improvement is occurring, but for younger vets the rate continues to outpace older generations.
Elmore said plans are in place to convert his office’s previous location into an area where younger veterans can receive job training specifically tailored to technical fields like machinery and computer repair. The Spokane County Veterans Services website, spokanecounty.org/veteran, offers multiple resources for returning service members seeking jobs and budget tools for those older vets who have left the workforce.
The Spokane County Veterans Services office, at 1101 W. College Ave., is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.