By Tamas Mondovics
That Hillsborough County is boasting a large population of military veterans is not breaking news. In fact, for a while the County has proudly claimed having the third largest veteran population in the state of Florida.
That is until now. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Hillsborough County had the most veterans of any county in Florida: 98,307, an increase of 5,135 over 2015.
The report also emphasized that the number doesn’t reflect the thousands of active-duty servicemen and servicewomen who also live here. By comparison, Duval County had 91,296 veterans, and Pinellas had 90,533.
It is safe to say that Hillsborough County officials and residents have done a great job caring for and supporting its vets and their families, even as many are working tirelessly to make sure each vet has what he or she needs.
A good example of this support is the visible accomplishment at the County’s Veterans Park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr. Veterans Museum, which has been the center of care.
The park is now working on expanding the parking lot not to mention the 8,000 sq. ft. Veterans Resource Center is currently under construction on the grounds that will become the new home for the County’s Consumer and Veterans Services.
As funds become available future plans also call for a 14,000 to 16,000 sq. ft., addition for educational use and museum exhibits.
“The new services center is the result of a unified effort by our local Veterans, Veteran advocates, Hillsborough County government and the state of Florida,” said Assistant Hillsborough County Administartor, Dexter Barge.
Earlier this year, Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’s Hospital (JAHVH) administration and staff also celebrated the groundbreaking for the VA’s new South Hillsborough Community Based Outpatient Clinic.
All of this, of course, comes at a price. According to the report, Hillsborough County has remained first in the state in the amount of federal veterans’ compensation and pension benefits: $490 million in FY 2016, an increase of $64 million over the previous year.
The VA has reportedly expended more than $1.1 billion in benefits and programs in Hillsborough in FY 2016, that also included $14,944,000 in construction, $118,979,000 education and vocational rehabilitation/employment, $5,998,000 in general operating expenses, $8,798,000 in insurance and indemnities and $476,061,000 in medical care.
Military veterans, dependents or survivors who want to know more about the wide range of benefits and programs that are available are urged to contact the Hillsborough County Consumer and Veterans Services for help.
Certified Veterans Service Officers assist military members and their families at four locations, and there is never a fee.
Staff also provides outreach and support to veterans in assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, private residences, and private businesses.
For information, visit HCFLGov.net/Veterans or call 635-8316.