Many local veterans unaware of free services available in Ottawa County

Mar 5, 2024 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Ottawa County has over 3,000 veterans and a community full of people who want to support them. (Submitted photo)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

Ottawa County Veterans Service Office Director, Sara Toris, said Ottawa County is passionate about caring for its more than 3,000 veterans. The Veterans Service Office helps veterans in a number of ways, and, in the rare instances that it can’t lend a hand, there is always someone willing to help.

“There is a very strong support system for veterans in Ottawa County. The few times we needed something last minute that we couldn’t handle ourselves, we put a post out and it was handled immediately,” Toris said. “When a vet needed donated furniture moved into his apartment, the Oak Harbor wrestling team showed up. It took just one text message to make that happen.”

Unfortunately, many local veterans are unaware of the many services available to them through the Veterans Service Office. Two service officers, Jeni Biehler and Joe Hoff, work as liaisons between veterans and the Veterans Affairs (VA) office by filing claims on behalf of the veterans. Claims cover a wide variety of needs, including pensions, healthcare and survivor benefits.

“So many people don’t know we’re here, don’t know what we do, and don’t know that what we do is free. We don’t charge anything,” Toris said.

Veterans and their families attend a dinner honoring local Purple Heart recipients at American Legion Post 114 in Oak Harbor. (Submitted photo)

The Veterans Service Office also offers financial assistance for Ottawa County veterans. In 2022, the Ottawa County office distributed $70,000 in financial assistance.

“I administer all of the financial assistance claims. We offer financial assistance to veterans who have resided in Ottawa County for the last 90 days and are facing financial difficulty,” Toris said.

Financial assistance is provided to meet a number of different needs, including rent, utilities, mortgage, car repair and food.

“You name it, we’ve probably worked with it. We’ve helped with mattresses, refrigerators and furnace repairs. With the rising cost of everything, we’ve seen more vets needing food,” Toris said. “If you have a need, contact us and see if we can help. It’s not a loan. You don’t have to pay it back.”

In addition to handling VA claims and providing financial assistance, the Veterans Service Office also provides free transportation to VA medical appointments across the region, including to Toledo, Ann Arbor, Sandusky and Cleveland.

Service Officer Joe Hoff, left, and Ottawa County Veterans Service Office Director, Sara Toris, help veterans at the Ottawa County Veterans Service Office, which offers many benefits, including financial assistance and free transportation to VA medical appointments. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

“We have five vans and five drivers. We go all over,” Toris said. “We take them to their appointment, wait for them, and bring them home.”

The office is currently hiring drivers, which is a paid, county position.

“The camaraderie in the vans is great,” Toris said.

Toris hopes more veterans learn about the services they can receive in her office.

“It’s unbelievable how many people look to outside help because they don’t know we’re here,” she said.

Ohio is unique in that Ohio Revised Code mandates that every county have a Veterans Service Office. Some states only maintain regional offices.

“Ohio loves its vets,” Toris said. “And one of the great things about being in a small, rural community like Ottawa County is that everyone knows everyone, so they are very eager to help each other.”

The Ottawa County Veterans Service Office is located at 8444 West State Route 163, Suite 102, in Oak Harbor. For more information call 419- 898-2089 or visit www.co.ottawa.oh.us/358/Veterans-Service.

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