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A Brief History Of Mendo’s Veterans Service Office

I worked in the Veteran Service Office (VSO) of Mendocino County for 11 years and was the Veteran Service Officer for 5 of those. I just want to clarify what our complaints are.

Around 15 years ago our office was being evicted from our leased space on Talmage due to another county deficit. (Around 2009.) At that time there were people in the County government and some of the BOS who had respect for the Veterans of our county. That seems to no longer exist. Actions speak much louder than words. Our staff went out and found the building on Observatory empty. It is a county-owned building. We asked for the building and this was granted. Since that time the office has existed there and helped many Veterans and their dependents in financial and other ways. 

The BOS has given us many unsubstantiated reasons for this recent move to the old hospital building on Dora Street. The latest ones are employee safety and parking. Never had there been an issue of safety or parking. The Observatory building is adjacent to the mental health building with its huge parking lot.

The veterans found the Observatory House space to be a welcoming and healthy environment. Many of these veterans had never sought help and were unsure what the office could do for them. Still, many others had had bad experiences with the VA in the past, especially the Viet Nam Vets. Some are in wheelchairs or have mobility issues. This house was a welcoming door for them to enter.

Then in the early part of Dec 2023, the VSO was given less than two weeks to pack up and be moved to the mental health building on Dora Street. No word was given to anybody. It was kept hushed. There was so little time to get ready that the movers threw out 15 years of memorabilia that was on the walls or desks. There was a picture of one of our vets standing by the piled items (junk to the county) holding a picture of the BOS back around 2010 giving a plaque of appreciation to the VSO and the American Legion and VFW of Ukiah. Many of the Vets in that picture are no longer with us. Now the picture is not either.

The office was moved to the Mental health building. Two small coffin-like offices were given to the VSO. Neither office is wheelchair accessible. We have several testaments of Veterans not being able to maneuver inside these offices. Since then, they finally gave the VSO one more office which is bigger. So, of the three offices, one is fit for clients with mobility issues or PTSD-like problems. This is so unsatisfactory.

Two of the BOS members, Mo Mulheren and John Haschak offered to put pictures on the walls in the sterile hallways to try and make it more inviting. This space does not fit the needs of our veterans or the veteran's service office staff, regardless of how many pictures are put on the wall. Mo even brought a house plant to soothe away all the problems. Again, total disrespect.

Now we have just discovered that this coming Tuesday, they have on their agenda a deficit budget plan to try to correct their failure to balance the county's finances. On that list is to finalize the move of the VSO to the Mental Health building. We want to voice our disapproval.

Please try and get as many members of your posts to attend this meeting. It is short notice. That was their plan. We discovered this agenda just yesterday. I am sure they were hoping we would not notice.

The Air Quality control is now in the old VSO office. The Veterans are crammed into a sterile-like environment. This should be an outrage to all Veterans of our county and counties near us.

Please show your support for the VSO office and be at the Administration Building on Low Gap Road by 0845, Tuesday, Feb. Public opinion begins at 0900. Let's let them know what we think.

Carl Stenberg


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Bad Answers & No Answers

To the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors 

Could I please get an explanation on several issues? The first one is why have we been told that the cost analysis for the move would be shown to us. The CEO’s office has told us several times they had it and would get us copies. Now we discovered that there never was one. How did this occur? Don’t the CEO’s people realize that they will get caught up in their lies.? Was it legal to put these moves into action without an analysis? 

Why does it take until the end of March to get this on the agenda? It took a week and a half to toss us out of our 15-year office into the tiny cell-like rooms. I do not need to go into the problems that this has created. There will be a lot more problems/complaints if we wait till the end of March, or longer. Do you realize that the VSO office has been closed for the last two days due to our one VSR being out for medical reasons? This office needs another Veterans Service Representative as promised by several Board Members. I have received several calls from concerned Vets wondering why they cannot seek help. They assumed that I still had answers having been the VSO in the past. I advised them that I did not. The general feeling is that the board has turned their backs on them. The action of the board proves them correct. 

Our elected officials have blatantly lied to their constituents, i.e., “The move is being done because Air Quality needs space for storage” and “We will get you another Vet rep” all of which appear to be falsehoods. It appears that the decision was based on the desire to charge Air Quality Control rent money. So, the Vets were thrown under the bus for some rent? The VSO office is one of the few county offices that brings revenue into the county funds. All of you receive reports from the California Department of Veterans Affairs twice a year through your VSO on the money that is received from the state to our county because of the work the VSO did. It was around $119,000 last year. Was that even considered? Were those reports even glanced at? 

Why do we even need to get this issue on the agenda/calendar? Mo Mulheren stated that to move us out an agenda was not needed, so why is an agenda item needed to move us back? How can all of you continue to support this extremely unethical way to conduct your business? The right thing to do would be to reverse the decision and move the VSO back into the building on Observatory Ave., Now. If not, the problems will continue to multiply. 

As a Veteran and a tax-paying voter, I would like answers to these questions. Real answers this time, please. 

Carl Stenberg,USCG BMC ret; VSO Mendocino County ret

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Mark Scaramella Adds: There’s a little more to the backstory behind the Veterans Service Office move. In recent months the County has been thrashing around trying to pick up scraps of cost savings or new revenue to reduce the budget gap, estimated at around $7 or $8 million, more if you add in their disputable guesses about the Pension Fund and the Health Plan. The Air Quality Office — a state operated and funded office, not a county office — was paying upwards of $2800 a month to an as-yet unnamed landlord. Apparently that landlord wanted to raise the monthly rent substantially, rent that was paid by the state, not the County. Somebody figured out that if they moved Air Quality into a county-owned building they could charge the state for rent and gain around $3,000 a month in new revenue for the County. They chose the Veterans Service Office on Observatory as the new home for Air Quality because it is a county-owned building having been donated to the County years ago as part of the old County hospital (now the “mental health building”) donation. Not caring about or consulting with the veterans who preferred the Observatory house, County officials abruptly ordered the VSO to move under the pressure of the end of the lease from the Air Quality office’s landlord. As Mr. Stenberg pointed out in his previous letter, the VSO office estimates (with the County’s approval) that, based on their own calculations, the VSO is credited with bringing in about $120k a year in veterans benefits based on their “point” scoring system whenever a vet is hooked up with local benefits. At the clearly uninviting Dora Street location, the expectation is that, besides being impractical for the VSO’s functioning, it will result in fewer, perhaps significantly fewer, veterans visits and associated benefits coming into the county’s economy. So far nobody has presented a cost analysis in an attempt to justify the move, and the veterans and their supporters suspect that that’s because the numbers don’t add up to a real benefit for anyone.

One Comment

  1. Public Servant February 29, 2024

    For the record, and for those interested, it was not department heads that made the decision to move the Veteran’s admin, it was the CEO….who has taken no responsibility. Predictably disappointing government.

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