TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls County veterans groups are used to leftovers.
For years, the groups used whatever space is available to them. Several host their meetings inside the Disabled American Veterans building on Shoup Avenue. Other groups meet in members’ homes.
“Our building’s been condemned three times,” said Steve Gilbert, commander of the Twin Falls DAV chapter and VFW Post.
Paperwork is scattered between members’ houses, and veterans new to town haven’t had a central place to access these groups and other services.
But soon, that will all change. The Twin Falls County Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to lease about 7,000 square feet of offices, meeting space, storage and a kitchen to the Twin Falls Veterans Council, a group of eight veterans’ organizations. A recreation room will also be available for veterans.
The move is expected to improve access to services for veterans and bring a fractured community together.
“We’re blessed to have you here to help us through this and give us a place to call home,” said Harvey McCoy, council chairman and service officer for VFW Post 3604 in Buhl. “So now we can reach out to the community and maybe get as many veterans as we can to come into the fold and become the big family that we should be.”
The five-year lease is expected to be the beginning of a long-term relationship that will bring a number of veterans’ services under the same roof at County West, 630 Addison Ave. W.
“It’s our idea as a commission to serve our veterans as kind of a one-stop shop,” Commissioner Don Hall said.
A long time coming
When Dennis Reilly, a veteran of the Korean War, moved to Twin Falls from Pennsylvania in 2012, he found it hard to get to services because they were more scattered. Now, the County West vet offices are within walking distance of his house.
“I wouldn’t know people in Idaho if it wasn’t for this group,” the VFW honor guard member said.
He hopes the new offices will be a good resource for recruiting other veterans who are new to town.
The Twin Falls Veterans Council has been trying to find an office space for at least six years, McCoy said. It was one of the reasons the council was established, and it will now allow the group to focus on other goals.
The space will be leased for $50 per month, which Hall had hoped would help give veterans more “skin in the game” with regard to the county building. But this week, an anonymous local businessman stepped up and offered to cover the lease amount.
Additionally, Franklin Building Supply has agreed to donate a set of double doors for security, 30 gallons of paint, and labor to remove a wall to create a large meeting room for the VFW auxiliary.
Jimmy Berkley, judge advocate general and founder of Twin Falls Veterans Council, plans to move his personal military memorabilia collection into the meeting space so others can see and enjoy the historic pieces. He has uniforms dating back to World War I.
After some painting and other improvements are complete on the second-floor meeting rooms, the first step will be to get paperwork to a central and secure location.
“Right now, it’s scattered between three to four homes per group,” Berkley said.
Eventually, the council would like to have someone at the second-floor offices all the time in order to assist veterans with finding services. In the meantime, the groups will host meetings there and leave a list of contacts out where it’s visible, McCoy said. The recreation room will have a pool table and games available and provide a space where veterans can socialize with one another.
The social aspect is a big part of helping veterans. Berkley recalled one man’s children had asked him, “How did you get him to talk?” after he’d joined one of the veteran groups.
“We hope to make them productive citizens again,” DAV acting adjutant Don Pennington said. “Give ‘em faith and hope that they can do something.”
The groups also do community service projects and help connect veterans to other services — some of which are in the same building.
“The Veterans Council is a great addition to the County West family,” Commissioner Terry Kramer said.
Twin Falls County also has a veteran service office that recently moved to County West. It’s accessible from the south entrance of the building.
The county is in the process of selecting a full-time veteran service officer who will help veterans with paperwork and scheduling van trip up to Boise. The DAV van takes veterans almost daily up to the Boise VA Medical Center.
After 55 people applied for the job, the commissioners have narrowed it down to six finalists — all veterans themselves — who will be interviewed Friday and Monday. The final selection should take place next week.
Meanwhile, the DAV van has been located at County West since November, and is parked in an alcove where it is easier for volunteers to access and get it ready. The van had previously been parked outside the county courthouse.
With veterans’ services and groups now closer to one another, it’s Hall who has been given the credit for taking the long time plans into action. Hall is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served as a fireman for aircraft from 1982 to 1986.
The commissioner had approached Gilbert on the National Day of Prayer in May and asked what he could do to help veterans.
“I’m like ‘Oh, Lord — you don’t know,’” Gilbert recalled.
Gesturing to Hall during a tour of the offices Thursday morning, McCoy said, “That’s our savior, right there.”