PROVIDENCE — The state is on the verge of hiring a director to oversee its veterans’ affairs division, though some veterans say what they really need is someone to work directly with them and help them get the benefits they’re entitled to.
Rhode Island’s veterans division does not have a person focused solely on outreach and helping veterans with claims. Many other states and towns employ veterans’ services officers. Massachusetts has one in each municipality, according to its department. Connecticut assigns them by congressional district.
Leaders of Rhode Island veterans’ organizations say that the state tries to help its veterans but that the efforts are often disjointed. They worry veterans don’t know about their benefits or don’t pursue them, in part because the state doesn’t have someone dedicated to working with their groups and federal officials to help.
‘‘They just don’t know what’s available to them,’’ said David Smith, commander of the Disabled American Veterans of Rhode Island. ‘‘And I don’t know if all the veterans’ groups know all the information.’’
Two caseworker positions, at a salary of about $56,000 each, were added to Rhode Island’s budget in 2014 for this purpose. The job specifications weren’t approved until July, and the posts haven’t been filled.
There’s also an opening at the division for a director, a position authorized in 2011 and funded by Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo last year. The state plans to announce the appointment in coming weeks.
The position was advertised with many of the same job responsibilities that the division’s current associate director has, at a salary of $108,000 to $122,000 annually, months after Raimondo signed an executive order promoting a lean government.
‘‘The last thing we need is another layer of bureaucracy, especially if the positions are so closely similar and almost duplicate,’’ said Ana Sarver, who is retiring from the Navy. ‘‘Whatever resources that are dedicated, financial or otherwise, would be better spent on outreach for veterans.’’
The state needs people to tell younger veterans, especially, about their benefits, because they’re not necessarily going to veterans’ organizations to find out, added Sarver, who was stationed in Rhode Island and plans to return.
Other veterans say they want someone with a director’s title and the influence that comes with it to advocate for them, but agree that the state should focus more on outreach.
‘‘There is no communication coming from the state, saying this is available or we’re going to try to do this for you,’’ said Frank Collins, commander of an American Legion post in Providence. ‘‘If I don’t know what’s going on, how are other veterans going to know?’’
At the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jim Boardman spends two days a week helping veterans claim benefits. The state needs a caseworker to help handle the overflow of cases from veterans’ organizations because the current system ‘‘really doesn’t work,’’ he said.
According to the Executive Office of Health & Human Services, the director will be charged with fully staffing the office. Sophie O’Connell, a spokeswoman, said they expect to move quickly on hiring the caseworkers, which are fully funded, once the new director is in place.
The veterans’ division co-hosted a summit recently to talk with veterans about how the state can better meet their needs. One of its staffers does outreach as one of several duties.