A number of veterans are on the verge of losing their homes, according to Kenneth Bonnell.

A number of veterans are on the verge of losing their homes, according to Kenneth Bonnell.

Bonnell, president of the board of commissioners for the Veterans Service Commission in Union County, shared the information with county commissioners during a budget hearing Feb. 23.

Statements and checking accounts prove the veterans are in trouble, according to Veterans Service Commission executive director Dale Bartow, who reviews the budgets of those seeking financial assistance.

"Anything they put on that budget, they have to have proof of that," he said.

Bartow, who is asking for approval of a $599,000 total budget for 2009, said his client load increased 18 percent from 2006 to 2007 and 29 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Based on past trends, Bartow said, the office estimates a 40 percent increase from 2008 to 2009.

The budget indicated $200,000 is needed for relief, otherwise known as financial assistance.

At one point, Bartow said, the office cut $20,911 from the budget, but as the final numbers were being run, officials realized that it was going to have to go back in to meet expenditures.

"What we did was look at what we actually spent toward what we actually budgeted this year," he said. "We raised it $25,000."

Consequently, the budget for relief went from $200,000 to $225,000.

Commissioner Tom McCarthy told Bartow, Bonnell, commission vice president William McKinnon, staff member Linda Fuqua and county veterans service officer David Cook Sr. that they were moving in the wrong direction.

He and fellow commissioners Gary Lee and Charles Hall asked officeholders and department heads to cut their budgets since learning the county will have a general fund budget of $19.6-million for the coming year, 1.5 percent less than 2008 actual general fund expenditures.

"That is only a 14 percent (increase)," Bartow said. "What we are concerned with when we started checking the numbers, (a) 40 percent (increase in clients) will well exceed that 14 percent."

In the first two months of this year, Bartow said, veterans services had eight new clients who had never before sought services.

"That is not very normal from what we have seen in the past, in a two-month period," he said.

Six of the eight asked for financial assistance.

"I guess the bottom line is, we are seeing greater need amongst the veterans as the economy is slowing down," he said. "It's really affecting a number of veterans. They are coming in greater numbers asking for help."

The five commissioners for the Veterans Service Commission have seen more and more veterans about to lose their homes, according to Bonnell.

"We do everything we can to keep veterans and their families from living on the streets," he said.

They assess each veteran's situation separately. Many live on fixed incomes.

"What I am finding out with our senior veterans that with increases in utilities and gas and everything that it has gone up so much that it is starting to exceed their incomes," Bartow said.

catwogan@yahoo.com