August Lehe, veterans’ service officer for Talladega County, said the state Veterans Affairs Department has ordered the Sylacauga veterans’ office closed as of June 1. In the past, the Sylacauga office was open two days per week.
The Sylacauga office is just one of 17 veterans' service offices around the state that are expected to close June 1, according to a Tuesday report from the Associated Press.
The offices, which are state-funded, are being closed because of severe funding cuts to agencies funded by the state General Fund budget, the AP reports.
Lehe said Sylacauga veterans can still contact him at the Talladega veterans’ service office, 20 miles away.
“When I retire on Dec. 31, I expect the Talladega office will close, too,” Lehe said.
A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Horton, says no employees will lose jobs because of the 17 offices being closed. Manpower will be consolidated in the offices remaining open.
In several counties with more than one office, the department will close one office, but will keep another office open.
Alabama Veterans Affairs Commissioner Clyde Marsh said the closings are necessary because of the projected budget shortfall.
Lehe said the state’s system of veterans’ affairs offices has been around for 67 years. In 1945, he said, some states chose to pay a bonus to returning veterans, but Alabama set up a network of local offices instead.
“The idea was, why pay them once, when you can set up something to help them in the long term,” Lehe said.
Even though the closure is due to state-level cuts, Lehe said most Sylacauga veterans would probably lay the blame on federal officials.
“I have a hard time explaining to people that I work for the state government and not the federal government,” he said.
Assistant Metro Editor Tim Lockette added to this report from the Associated Press.