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Brewton VA office to close

County commissioners aren’t in a tough spot any longer when it comes to making a decision on which Veteran’s Administration service office to close — VA officials have made the decision for them.

Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Clyde Marsh made the announcement by way of letter last week to Escambia County Commission Chairman David Stokes.

“The decision has been made by ADVA to suspend services in the Brewton office and provide veterans county office services in Atmore,” Marsh said in the letter. “The consolidation will occur as previously scheduled on June 24, 2010. It is in the best interest of our agency and veterans to implement our plan and not delay this initiative any longer.”

Stokes said closing the office was neither the decision nor the desire of the commission.

“We did everything we knew to do to try and keep both offices open,” Stokes said. “The decision was not ours, but the decision has been made.”

In his letter, Marsh said the consolidation of the offices was a result of statewide proration, cuts in the current year’s budget because state revenues have fallen below expectations.

“For clarification, veterans services are not being lost in Escambia County,” Marsh said. “Two offices are being consolidated into one and the same number of days will be provided in the Atmore office that was previously provided in both Brewton and Atmore. Additionally, this consolidation is not a pure budget issue, but is driven by proration, which was the result of a statewide underperforming economy. Proration mandates that all state agencies operate under various restrictions.”

Marsh said an assessment of services offered by the agency was made into which office would best serve the veterans in the county.

“Based on our agency’s assessment, the Atmore office is best suited to handle the veterans’ service requirements for Escambia County,” Marsh said. “It is a modern facility with larger office accommodations and room to expand. It is easily accessible to all veterans, but especially disabled veterans due to handicap or veteran friends/accessibility. Finally, Atmore has the largest county veteran population in closer proximity.”

Commissioner Brandon Smith had met with VA officials in recent weeks in an effort to work out plans that would keep both offices open — but that attempt was not successful.

“Obviously the best outcome would have been to keep both offices open for our veterans across the county,” Smith said. “That’s what we tried to do.

Unfortunately with the economic downturn that we all have been faced with that was not an option for the state.”

Although veterans in the Brewton and surrouding areas may have to drive to find assistance from a veterans service office, Smith said Atmore’s office will be a comfortable space in which to conduct VA business.

“I am very pleased to have the office in Atmore.” Smith said. “If you look at both locations, the Atmore office proved to be the best location for handicap accessibility and the larger number of veterans to be served there as described in Commissioner Marsh’s letter.”

Earlier this month, commissioners had vowed to continue a fight to keep both Brewton and Atmore’s offices of VA services open.

Commissioner Larry White had invited concerned citizens, veterans and fellow commissioners to have their voices heard at the July 2 VA board meeting in Montgomery.

However, based on the information in Marsh’s letter to the commission, attending that meeting would not serve any purpose in an attempt to keep both offices open.

The county commission, not the VA, pays for the facility and utilities for both offices.

The Brewton office of Veterans Affairs is located in the Escambia County Courthouse annex building. The Atmore VA office is located on the Satellite Courthouse complex on U.S. 31 just east of downtown.