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Ritchie: Don't close Ogdensburg Veterans' Affairs office

Watertown Daily Times - 9/3/2017

Sept. 03--Tweet

OGDENSBURG -- State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, sent a letter to Col. Eric J. Hesse, director of the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs, expressing concern that the division might be attempting to skew statistics to justify closing the division's Ogdensburg office.

"A constituent recently shared with me their belief that New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs has been forcing veterans from Ogdensburg and other parts of St. Lawrence County to travel to Massena in a deliberate effort to reduce usage of the Ogdensburg office and in turn, create the appearance that the Massena office should be converted from a satellite to a main office location," Mrs. Ritchie said in the letter.

Mrs. Ritchie said she had learned that the division was seeking to close the Ogdensburg office with the exception of one day each month in which a veterans' counselor would travel to Ogdensburg to meet with clients.

The Office of Veterans Affairs serves as a liaison for veterans and their families dealing with the federal Veterans Administration.

The office often helps elderly veterans deal with technical interfaces with the Veterans Administration, such as electronic forms and complicated telephone menus. Counselors help interpret federal rules and regulations and explain how the VA works.

"St. Lawrence County -- which as you know is located in close proximity to Fort Drum -- has one of the largest concentrations of veterans in New York State," Mrs. Ritchie said in the letter to Col. Hesse.

"Many of them turn to your agency for assistance with a host of concerns, especially since many rural residents in St. Lawrence County do not have easy access to the internet."

Mrs. Ritchie asked the colonel to look into the accusation of forced scheduling and requested that the Ogdensburg office remain open.

No one was authorized to talk to the press at the Ogdensburg office. Repeated calls to the Albany office of Veterans' Affairs were not returned.

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(c)2017 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

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