Riverside County supervisors Tuesday will consider whether to revise or approve the county’s official response to a grand jury report that identified shortcomings in how the Department of Veterans’ Services handles customers’ needs.
At the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the 19-member civil grand jury issued recommendations to the Board of Supervisors based on findings that the jurors made during an investigation of departmental operations.
The Executive Office and other agencies reviewed the jury’s submission and produced answers that will be scrutinized or approved without comment by the board as part of its policy agenda Tuesday.
One of the jury’s foremost concerns pertained to staffing. According to the report, the Department of Veterans’ Services consists of a director, assistant director, three senior service officers, five representatives, an executive assistant and five office assistants who are assigned to seven offices countywide.
Jurors found the number of personnel inadequate to properly handle the needs of veterans seeking assistance. The panel noted that the county’s veteran population is nearly 130,000, and between July 2016 and February 2018, the Department of Veterans’ Services received 36,966 client visits, responded to 60,511 phone calls and answered 23,803 emails.
Jurors recommended that the board come up with funding for additional staff.
According to the Executive Office, the Department of Human Resources is now recruiting for two new veterans’ representatives positions to take up slack and enhance operations at field offices.
The grand jury also cited the need for Department of Veterans’ Services offices in Indio, Hemet and Riverside to set aside walk-in hours on Fridays; the branches are currently closed on Fridays except for caseload management activity.
Several residents who sought assistance between Monday and Thursday told the jury that they had to wait up to three hours before they were served. Jurors said employees’ hours could be staggered to accommodate walk-ins on Fridays.
The county replied that it was infeasible to set aside time for walk-ins on Fridays because employees are immersed in completing “claims work and returning phone calls and emails” on the final business day of the week. However, officials left open the possibility that after additional staff are added to the department, Friday mornings may be set aside for appointment-only visits at the Riverside office. The earliest that might happen is August 2019, according to the county.
The jury lastly expressed the need for modifications to the handicap ramp at the Department of Veterans’ Services main office in Riverside, which lacked handrails in accordance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the Economic Development Agency, the modification recommendation was implemented, and the ramp was brought up to ADA standards in July.