County hears of tenant woes and SNAFUs at VA

HUDSON–Tenants and veterans, and the problems they face, were among the matters that came up at the Human Services Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors meeting last week.

The county fair housing officer, William Fisher, told of a tenant who says she does not smoke in her apartment but nevertheless faces eviction for allegedly doing so. Her lease in a senior citizen complex has expired and she is staying there month by month. But the rent checks she submitted for April, May, and June were returned to her unredeemed.

She has not received eviction papers but has received eviction threats. “Smokers are not a protected class,” Mr. Fisher said at the June 15 meeting, but he added, “It is up to the management to prove she smokes in her apartment.”

Another tenant told Mr. Fisher that bugs infest the tenant’s apartment and the landlord would not make repairs. Mr. Fisher said he told the tenant to notify the local code enforcement officer.

Gary Flaherty, executive director of the county Veteran’s Service Department reported having spoken to veterans who are losing their benefits because the federal Veterans Administration had records sayon the veterans had died. “I had a veteran standing in my office” talking to the VA by speaker phone, “and the VA person said they would not consider him alive until he could prove it,” said Mr. Flaherty.

After that call, said Mr. Flaherty, he brought the encounter to the attention of a VA officials only to be told, “We have clerks who sometimes punch a wrong button,” marking a living person as deceased.

“Throughout the country,” Mr. Flaherty said, 4,000 living veterans are listed as deceased by the VA and are no longer receiving benefits, while benefits are still being paid for 30,000 veterans who really are dead.

In addition, Mr. Flaherty said that veterans’ representatives are expected to ask every veteran in their county whether they and every voting-age member in their family is registered to vote, and if not to act to register them. But Mr. Flaherty objected to this policy. “I don’t think we should be involved in political activities,” he said. And people who fought in wars already “have served their country.”

Turning to an ongoing problem, Mr. Flaherty said that at an upcoming meeting of veterans’ representatives, he plans to bring up the processing compensation claims. He submits compensation claims applications either to a VA office in New York City, which then sends the form to the VA, or he submits the application directly to the VA. When he does the latter, the application gets processed more quickly, and some of his claims are urgent.

But the more cases he submits to the New York City office, the higher the tally that office can report when claiming funds.

The next Human Services Committee meeting will be Wednesday, July 20, at 5 p.m. at 401 State Street.

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