Veterans Benefits Continue To Grow for Bremer County Veterans

The Bremer County Veterans Affairs Office’s primary task is to assist veterans and their eligible dependents with filing benefit claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, and provide some local benefits to our county’s veterans. While an office exists in all 99 counties in the state, how each operates is decided by county officials and the programs can vary widely.

As county employees, the staff of Bremer County Veterans Affairs are free of conflict with the federal and state governments but have a symbiotic relationship that can directly affect veterans on the local to national scale. They foster relationships that support veteran legislation and advocate for needed change within the state and federal governments.

While benefits are their primary task, our local office goes beyond the status quo by offering services not typically found in other offices. Emergency assistance for veterans and their eligible dependents is provided in coordination with multiple other agencies throughout the Cedar Valley. “Advocacy is another big part of our job,” stated Neal Jarnagin, Director of the agency. “So many veterans have difficulty managing the system that it becomes too cumbersome, and they quit trying. We’re here to make sure things go smoothly throughout whatever process they may need. Education, death, dependency, survivor, home loans, life insurance, healthcare, or any other issue veterans are having, we can typically help, or we certainly know the person who can.” Jarnagin recalled a young National Guardsman who he recently worked with and who typically would not be eligible for benefits. “Less knowledgeable service officers may have stopped this young man at the door, but we were able to get him the benefits he truly was eligible for; a benefit that resulted in approximately $3,000 in monthly compensation and a slew of other benefits.” “We’re well-known to accept difficult cases because we’re a less populated county and can take the time necessary to produce a high-quality claim for benefits,” stated Jarnagin. “It takes time but Bremer County Veterans Affairs is all about quality over quantity, and we have no difficulty meeting the needs of our veterans.”

One thing that Jarnagin discusses continuously is accountability in Veterans Affairs Offices across the state. “In my opinion, there’s not enough, and I’ve been able to discuss this with the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Other state and county agencies are audited for HIPAA, case management, and a ton of other aspects, but our offices are not.” Jarnagin continued that their office is continually inundated with calls from veterans across the country. “Veterans don’t know the system. They don’t know the process and when they walk into an office, have a claim done in the twenty minutes they’re there, most likely, they didn’t get great service. That’s why we need accountability and, at least, a general standardization of procedures across the State of Iowa.”

For Jarnagin and the Bremer County Veterans Affairs office, transparency is key. “We can’t just say, ‘We increased benefits by eight million dollars.’ Luckily, there is federal data to support those numbers and are completely accessible to the public.” According to the VA, each fiscal year, the department publishes a Geographic Distribution of VA Expenditures Report (GDX) that provides the estimated dollar expenditures for VA programs at different geographic levels, including county. It also includes population data which, with both sets of data help local offices justify and set budgets for the following fiscal year. The most recent GDX report is from the fiscal year 2016.

Other than 2012, since 2006, Bremer County has seen significant increases in veterans benefits while the veteran population continues to drop. Ultimately, according to the FY16 data, the 1,660 veterans in Bremer County bring in approximately $7,914,000 in both direct and indirect benefits, just by living in Bremer County. Since Jarnagin started in 2009 he, his predecessor, Nancy Edwards, and the Bremer County VA staff are responsible for a 4.3 million dollar increase in benefits. The difference, from FY15 to FY16 is $291,754.00, and Bremer County is in the one-third of counties in the state to have an increase, including the top five most populace veteran counties, other than Polk.

Jarnagin stated, “Direct benefits are those monetary benefits that veterans receive on a monthly basis. Indirect benefits are those that are paid on the veteran’s behalf such as for education or medical care, thereby allowing veterans to save on those costs and potentially spend that money within the community. In other words, it’s a VERY good thing to have veterans in our community, from an economic standpoint.”

“We’re especially proud of getting veterans and their dependents the benefits they’ve earned and continue to grow, even while our veteran population is declining. We’ve lost forty beneficiaries in this timeframe which is primarily due to deaths or leaving the county. We also understand that our all-volunteer military is not as large as it was in the Vietnam, Korea, or World War II eras, so we expect that the number of benefits paid will eventually plateau and even decline. However, that hasn’t happened yet, and we hope that veterans from those eras will continue making contact with our office so that they can receive the benefits promised them.

To see the official benefit amounts from the Department of Veterans Affairs, you may visit www.va.gov/vetdata/Expenditures. Scroll to “Expenditure Tables” and click on the year you desire. The list of all Iowa Counties and their population and changes within the last three fiscal years is provided below.

CountyVeteran Population FY14Veteran Population FY15Veteran Population FY16Veteran Benefits FY14Veteran Benefits FY15Veteran Benefits FY16
Adair656.97639.53622.17$3,811,919.33$4,568,439.11$4,214,612.00
Adams381.30370.91360.27$1,817,430.90$2,291,715.39$2,426,816.50
Allamakee1,098.371,081.041,063.50$6,554,731.66$8,664,462.00$7,690,734.50
Appanoose918.32898.43878.63$7,619,794.95$7,931,541.87$7,546,058.00
Audubon549.94534.61519.17$2,963,611.80$2,913,440.09$3,498,098.00
Benton2,281.152,250.202,220.51$10,084,878.21$10,756,371.28$13,209,848.50
Black Hawk10,036.079860.959690.54$42,658,504.13$48,368,733.35$47,354,060.00
Boone2,234.802,202.142,171.17$11,260,641.97$11,438,635.87$11,703,876.00
Bremer1,743.271,700.311,660.06$7,153,562.74$7,622,473.50$7,914,228.00
Buchanan1,654.201,619.571,585.60$7,231,020.12$7,466,973.68$7,232,494.50
Buena Vista1,254.821,215.431,177.32$5,554,570.51$5,544,319.94$5,623,748.50
Butler1,073.671,053.231,033.71$6,173,566.87$6,202,159.82$5,666,267.00
Calhoun940.57916.10891.79$4,651,915.95$4,482,432.66$4,320,233.50
Carroll1,510.591,475.411,440.57$7,232,235.57$7,736,551.58$6,961,748.50
Cass1,204.771,182.901,159.21$7,025,843.88$7,824,662.67$7,512,781.50
Cedar1,486.491,462.981,440.37$7,382,561.17$8,914,076.56$7,451,370.00
Cerro Gordo3,429.133,339.873,249.17$28,094,187.84$29,156,400.63$27,073,608.50
Cherokee988.66963.52938.90$5,450,287.39$6,076,561.52$6,568,772.00
Chickasaw917.61899.95882.31$5,190,006.90$6,117,783.83$5,364,059.50
Clarke610.55598.71587.48$6,443,617.78$7,131,540.02$6,638,845.50
Clay1,317.681,292.761,268.14$6,617,389.42$6,274,178.59$6,259,222.50
Clayton1,579.151,545.391,511.05$8,483,150.26$8,396,356.97$8,922,190.00
Clinton4,502.964,413.584,326.13$23,096,658.13$22,995,794.39$22,916,872.00
Crawford1,242.371,226.921,210.87$5,944,768.22$6,123,108.20$5,647,233.50
Dallas4,245.654,255.504,260.25$19,420,817.84$20,757,603.61$21,504,026.00
Davis596.46587.27578.54$3,404,395.82$3,710,615.89$3,383,602.00
Decatur562.17557.21552.67$3,748,748.58$3,438,474.60$3,604,890.00
Delaware1,279.481,263.271,247.17$5,386,819.72$5,416,888.29$4,957,737.50
Des Moines3,633.213,557.153,481.80$18,505,873.70$18,005,955.07$18,198,502.50
Dickinson1,380.901,341.661,303.44$8,036,657.32$8,267,675.48$8,845,667.50
Dubuque6,684.596,565.796,444.88$36,381,533.00$36,878,410.28$38,617,112.50
Emmet746.29727.67709.56$6,383,944.41$5,057,847.53$5,113,885.50
Fayette1,423.041,393.411,364.26$10,220,082.63$10,062,925.04$10,574,845.50
Floyd1,314.841,278.751,245.57$7,873,766.37$8,536,818.36$9,205,609.00
Franklin772.17757.15742.43$4,962,361.57$5,174,498.47$5,012,173.50
Fremont751.72749.43746.35$4,181,450.14$4,514,253.46$4,750,930.50
Greene731.58713.81695.99$4,491,606.96$4,567,546.57$3,931,272.00
Grundy920.61907.56895.14$3,672,990.57$4,551,303.04$4,521,924.00
Guthrie932.00921.92911.06$6,837,562.63$5,875,152.76$5,550,147.50
Hamilton1,070.431,043.581,015.77$7,633,484.38$7,940,276.03$7,610,009.50
Hancock875.31863.42851.66$4,695,288.43$5,299,427.37$5,277,219.00
Hardin1,514.621,486.261,458.04$6,636,292.95$7,589,427.83$7,473,848.00
Harrison1,303.471,284.621,265.61$7,970,363.25$8,720,534.32$7,521,136.50
Henry1,431.811,405.021,377.67$9,875,850.34$9,680,637.77$9,588,388.50
Howard681.88666.03651.06$4,417,285.72$4,067,294.43$5,240,498.50
Humboldt826.26803.93782.06$3,910,584.54$4,556,189.52$4,241,506.50
Ida684.99670.98657.84$3,229,271.18$2,691,734.90$2,918,086.00
Iowa1,247.371,227.171,207.01$7,081,968.18$7,968,288.49$8,270,158.00
Jackson1,777.901,743.471,709.96$9,034,851.53$10,353,939.51$9,267,565.50
Jasper3,071.913,023.182,974.25$14,690,400.79$15,760,604.62$15,730,659.50
Jefferson1,131.401,118.041,106.19$6,838,619.71$7,945,380.82$6,136,834.50
Johnson7,200.417,157.747,107.27$42,794,890.17$44,867,780.82$45,279,419.50
Jones2,043.282,034.742,027.24$9,373,686.88$11,341,746.51$9,919,761.00
Keokuk854.07836.84820.13$6,221,214.67$5,559,278.16$6,338,421.50
Kossuth1,309.961,281.441,253.83$5,690,104.94$6,307,547.41$6,114,035.50
Lee3,284.003,218.853,155.37$18,091,317.41$18,762,671.71$18,017,288.50
Linn17,614.3017,374.9017,134.94$83,130,012.74$88,268,057.78$85,535,514.50
Louisa826.37809.44792.58$4,497,806.01$5,001,647.52$5,115,458.50
Lucas621.37611.72602.31$4,318,794.68$4,243,516.55$4,261,242.50
Lyon624.19610.45597.16$4,734,391.48$4,483,028.88$3,954,857.00
Madison1,119.691,110.761,102.14$8,147,438.63$8,495,371.24$7,781,820.00
Mahaska1,472.961,447.951,421.97$9,286,638.12$9,366,706.88$9,227,641.00
Marion2,664.492,617.462,571.85$21,582,916.09$19,205,767.54$20,067,771.50
Marshall3,644.713,584.193,521.88$29,422,143.69$29,700,256.80$28,488,792.00
Mills1,288.961,279.451,269.28$10,039,764.16$10,239,910.28$10,540,183.50
Mitchell829.98818.93808.59$5,229,930.14$4,098,243.74$4,030,318.00
Monona959.47947.45935.01$4,905,449.10$4,374,649.34$4,445,722.50
Monroe590.08575.27561.33$6,609,103.77$5,175,354.48$5,002,300.00
Montgomery868.26855.92843.19$6,708,687.00$7,568,151.16$6,687,744.00
Muscatine3,112.893,057.553,002.39$14,703,241.35$16,381,253.45$15,431,886.50
Obrien1,029.621,006.71984.91$6,141,233.24$6,827,011.25$5,817,265.00
Osceola548.36542.32536.44$2,091,604.27$2,452,226.08$2,993,626.00
Page1,394.111,367.881,341.17$8,681,519.42$8,900,566.72$8,135,012.50
Palo Alto734.71717.66700.60$5,102,156.20$5,194,180.59$5,031,534.00
Plymouth2,058.002,022.811,987.54$7,022,795.27$7,035,692.26$7,515,104.50
Pocahontas796.36777.28758.97$3,740,273.81$3,307,782.54$3,260,230.50
Polk28,102.8027,721.0527,337.99$230,932,304.88$239,981,377.62$240,159,200.69
Pottawattamie7,818.037,705.397,593.18$55,027,115.18$56,297,353.77$57,686,183.50
Poweshiek1,408.971,375.171,343.00$6,308,360.02$6,580,535.76$7,369,902.50
Ringgold427.72416.43405.80$2,394,496.04$2,345,446.89$2,746,981.50
Sac922.79903.75885.03$4,895,245.65$5,293,960.64$4,833,760.50
Scott14,484.5114,308.3914,129.86$67,858,249.30$74,449,369.04$72,735,281.00
Shelby1,102.221,076.351,050.15$5,763,649.70$6,254,286.11$5,967,127.00
Sioux1,596.361,552.071,509.05$7,895,059.19$8,536,016.40$7,794,531.50
Story5,603.465,561.435,521.42$22,734,426.64$21,886,284.55$21,854,238.50
Tama1,432.761,411.871,390.59$8,040,199.68$8,133,627.61$7,281,360.00
Taylor577.74567.43557.24$3,045,702.38$3,243,082.88$3,312,175.00
Union1,022.111,006.63991.48$6,773,786.27$6,781,076.01$6,677,605.00
Van Buren627.77612.93597.94$4,727,617.28$5,105,702.00$4,518,901.00
Wapello3,175.413,099.853,027.44$17,693,900.05$18,980,073.38$18,345,749.00
Warren3,584.423,556.813,529.18$24,458,875.00$25,073,351.36$25,871,488.50
Washington1,468.331,452.481,436.81$10,555,164.30$10,715,948.21$11,653,164.50
Wayne532.80519.16505.83$3,197,498.44$3,504,665.00$2,822,580.00
Webster3,274.823,203.113,132.79$16,141,429.30$17,399,358.47$17,380,476.00
Winnebago780.13769.12758.51$5,336,682.21$5,641,192.94$5,370,870.50
Winneshiek1,257.861,224.011,191.54$5,617,806.81$6,659,771.23$6,687,137.50
Woodbury8,130.438,027.117,925.60$34,331,237.56$35,792,644.43$35,085,560.50
Worth663.95652.36640.67$4,268,343.70$4,091,587.30$4,275,151.50
Wright963.38944.52926.57$5,066,186.18$5,257,165.25$5,508,955.00
State Average1,951.461,920.601,889.70$11,173,803.30$11,520,513.72$11,317,917.93
State Median1,244.871,227.041,208.94$6,838,091.17$7,764,851.93$6,906,134.75
State Total231,654.81227,990.86224,351.63$1,339,350,176.98$1,397,550,694.17$1,381,697,344.69