BELLAIRE — Zack Space, a Democratic candidate for Ohio auditor, talked with local veterans Wednesday as part of a campaign tour focusing on Appalachian Ohio counties and how he believes he can help the area if elected to office in 2018.
The campaign stop was held at the Belmont County Veterans Services Office in Bellaire, with veterans and other local Democratic Party officials and candidates in attendance. During a roundtable discussion, Space took the time to listen to local veterans and employees of the BCVSO about how they believe the state can help make veterans services more efficient, and also spoke about how he can help make politics become a more level playing field and make government work better for all southeastern Ohioans.
County veterans’ services offices help veterans with Veterans Administration claims, financial assistance to eligible veterans and free daily transportation to the Pittsburgh Veterans Administration Medical Center by appointment. Cindy Maupin, executive director of the BCVSO, said she believes the state of Ohio has treated Belmont County veterans well, but that many counties are not adequately funded. She said she believes a more specialized medical treatment center is needed in the county, because the sickest veterans end up being the ones who have to travel to Pittsburgh for treatment for diagnoses such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease.
An estimated 6,000 veterans live in Belmont County. Maupin said local veterans would benefit if the state could provide a list of all veterans in the county with addresses so that her office could reach out directly to serve them. According to Maupin, federal and state privacy law provisions prevent such a list. It was discussed that a list may be able to be provided from accessing information from state driver’s license data, in which drivers are asked if they have served in the U.S. military.
“I think there are many veterans who don’t know what services we provide, and many that think they aren’t eligible,” Maupin said. “I had a gentleman come in the other day who didn’t think he was a veteran because he didn’t serve in a war. But you are a veteran if you served on active duty or in the reserves. A list of veterans would be very helpful for us to help them.”
Space said as auditor, he would have the capability, responsibility and authority to do “performance audits” on any state agency, and that he plans to perform such an audit on the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. He said the audit would ascertain how the state could better serve veterans, not merely to “cut costs.”
He said the ideas of having access to a database of veterans’ addresses, adequate funding for all county VSOs and more local access to medical treatment are all “legitimate” needs that should be addressed by the state legislature and that can be highlighted by the state auditor’s office.
“Funding may not be equitably enforced in all counties across the state, according to Cindy. It shouldn’t matter where you live. Every veteran, regardless of the county they live in, should be entitled to what the law provides. If they are not getting what they are entitled to, this is a problem,”Space said. “This is something that a performance audit may be able to pick up.”
Space said he believes the counties of rural Appalachian Ohio are not being served well by their state government. He has used this campaign tour of 10 stops, which began in Lucasville on Monday and ended in Steubenville Wednesday, to highlight four areas that have affected those counties — education, poverty, needs of veterans and gerrymandering.
“In many ways we have been left behind, and I think it is at least in part because of the role that political contributions have played in the establishment of policy and law and regulation,” Space said. “Because we don’t have an abundance of big political donors, we are not as important to the politicians in Columbus as some of the big cities might be.
“It is no coincidence. We have disadvantages when it comes to accessing public education, quality health care, modern technology, job opportunity and now maybe veterans’ services. We are trying to talk about these issues, and it is important to be honest about how our political process really works. And I want to set us on a path to fix these problems.”
Space was accompanied Wednesday in Bellaire by his father, Korean War veteran Socrates Space.