Ken Carlson

County Pulse: Proposed center in Modesto would bring veterans groups together, consolidate services

Local veterans were given expanded access to health care with the opening of a new Veterans Affairs clinic in Modesto in 2013.

Now, a proposed veterans center for Stanislaus County will give higher visibility to veterans groups and consolidate services for those who sacrificed for their country.

The county, Modesto, and Veterans Foundation of Stanislaus County want to put the one-stop center in an existing building in Modesto, possibly on McHenry Avenue or in a shopping center that has seen better times.

By giving new life to a vacant structure, officials hope to remove blight, while making services more accessible for former military members, some of whom returned home from the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan. The location needs to be close to public transportation.

A Veterans Advisory Commission has led a three-year planning process to make sure the center meets the needs of the 27,000 military veterans and their family members in Stanislaus County.

“There are many veterans who don’t know what their benefits are,” said Commission Chairman Richard Edgecomb, who served 47 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve.

Edgecomb and others first proposed a veterans memorial district that would charge a 0.2-cent assessment for a veterans facility, but political leaders talked them out of it and promised support for the current effort.

Commission member Joe Madden said some veterans organizations have halls in out-of--the-way locations, such as American Legion Post 74 at the end of South Santa Cruz Avenue near the Tuolumne River. The legion hall was flooded in 1997 and the post can’t sell it because of its location in the flood plain.

Madden is part of a Veterans of Foreign Wars group that congregates on East Linwood Avenue in Turlock.

“We have a hard time getting people to our functions,” Madden said. He has favored a potential site for the Modesto center near the VA clinic on Oakdale Road.

The new center will have kitchen facilities and a hall for large social functions.

The county veterans services office and Area Agency on Aging will move to the center. If a larger building can be remodeled and leased – perhaps as large as 65,000 square feet – county drug and alcohol programs, in-home support services and adult protective services could have a permanent home in the center, said Patty Hill Thomas, county chief operating officer.

Transportation, employment and education services would be based at the center. And planners envision other programs offered on a rotating basis, such as the Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living’s career opportunities, Hill Thomas said.

The county will issue a request for proposals from property owners Friday. There are owners who are interested in offering their sites, but the county wants to see a broad range of proposals for a long-term lease and building remodel.

Along with funding commitments from the county and Modesto, the project partners will seek additional support through fundraising, public and private contributions, grants and other sources to cover costs of running the veterans center.

The Veterans Advisory Commission meets the fourth Monday of every month. The primary meeting place is at County Center III near Oakdale Road and Scenic Drive in Modesto, but every other meeting is held in a different supervisorial district.

Madden said it’s not unusual for 30 to 50 veterans to attend commission meetings.

The agenda for Monday’s meeting includes a presentation by Stanislaus County Library Manager Michael Leamy on the “Veterans Connect at the Library” effort.

The commission also will consider a letter of support for the veterans group at Modesto Junior College, which wants to see a campus building renamed for Ron Tingley, who died a year ago. Tingley was not a veteran, but the MJC counselor helped develop a Veterans Resource Center at the college.

The commission meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday at County Center III, 921 County Center Drive in Modesto. It’s near Scenic Drive and Oakdale Road.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321