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Vietnam widow questions ability of veterans officer

Vietnam widow questions ability of veterans officer

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010 9:07 pm

By JOHN BRANNON
Staff Reporter
Patricia Dotson of Troy contends the local Veterans Administration office needs to be “brought up to the 21st century.”
Obion County Veterans Service officer Chuck Ashley says that’s exactly where the office is, and he’s proud of the service given local veterans since Aug. 1, 1989, when he was appointed to the post.
Next week, both parties will address a regular session of the Obion County Budget Committee. The committee meets at 9 a.m. Monday in the basement conference room at the Obion County Courthouse.
Ms. Dotson will bring the results of a poll she took among veterans by placing a large ad in the April 9 issue of The Messenger. In it, she asked veterans to answer five questions about service received from the local Veterans Administration office.
They are:
• Were you greeted in a friendly manner?
• Do you feel all your needs were met?
• Was your case handled in a timely manner?
• Were you satisfied with the office worker?
• Do you think there is a need for a change in Veterans Service office?
Her view
Ms. Dotson, who characterizes herself as “just a concerned taxpayer and Vietnam widow,” said her campaign is not against Ashley, “just the office.”
“Our county tax dollars, according to Mr. Ashley’s records, need to be addressed before the budget committee,” she said. “I have called the mayor’s office (Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire) on several occasions, asking him to please check with Mr. Ashley and find out why the veterans are dissatisfied and are having to go to (the) Dyersburg (VA office) instead of our county.”
She said she is not doing this on behalf of her first husband, the late Freddie Smith, who was killed in action in Vietnam. And she is not married to a veteran.
“I’m divorced. My second husband served in Vietnam and we have a disabled child, which could have been caused by (his exposure) to (the defoliant) Agent Orange,” she said. “It’s just for the county and county tax dollars, for veterans to get better service out of our (local) office. I believe it could be better served by having a certified veterans service administrator, an advocate.”
What would it take to make Ms. Dotson happy?
“Not me. The veterans. I’ve already been took care of by the Dyersburg office,” she said.
She declined to detail the nature of her VA claim.
Would it make her happy to get rid of Ashley?
“That’s not my decision,” she said. “That’s the county budget committee’s and the county commission’s job.”
But her ad states, “Do you think there is a need for a change in veterans service office?”
What does she mean by that?
“I believe it needs to be brought up to the 21st century so all the veterans can be served better,” she said.
His view
Ashley said Ms. Dotson’s ad in The Messenger was undeserved. “It hurt. It hurt me bad. It was unbelievable,” he said. “The first time she came in here, she told me, ‘You are doing a sorry job; you ought to be fired.’ I guess that’s what she’s trying to do now, get me fired. She’s on a crusade.”
A veteran himself — having served in the Air Force 1954-76, including a tour of duty in Vietnam — he was appointed the county veterans service officer by the county commission on Aug. 1, 1989, upon recommendation by the late Norris Cranford, county executive at the time.
The office serves about 2,600 veterans in Obion County.
“I would never have taken this job if it hadn’t been part time,” Ashley said. “I was working two other jobs. But since I’ve gotten older, I’ve cut them all out but this one. When I first started, our budget was about $7,000 a year. Office expenses and my salary had to come out of that. Cost of living has driven the budget to $13,520. It pays office expenses and my salary. The only raise I’ve gotten is cost of living. ”
Ashley said his office has a budget of $13,520 a year — all appropriated by the county — and he has to pay phone bills, Internet costs that average $2,000 a year, postal expenses and office expenses that run about $1,000 a year.
“If you take all expenses out of that $13,520 allocation, my salary will run about $6,000 a year and I have no assistant,” he said.
The Veterans Service Office, located at 622 South Depot St. in Union City, is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Walk-ins are welcome.
“I’ve tried my best to serve veterans. I’m proud of the help I’ve given them,” he said. “I am sorry Ms. Dotson feels the way she does. We’ll leave it to the budget committee and county commission and see where it goes.”
Ladd’s view
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Ed Ladd of Union City is quick to defend Ashley and his job performance. He said Ashley helps veterans acquire needed documents such as DD214 (discharge certificate) and VA claims forms.
“He does not make any decisions on eligibility requirements or assign disability ratings. Ratings are assigned by VA administrative centers,” Ladd said.
In addition to office duties, he said, each year Ashley coordinates volunteers who place U.S. flags on veterans’ graves in observance of Memorial Day.
“He is a Vietnam veteran who served 22 years in the Air Force,” Ladd said. “He was twice appointed by Gov. (Don) Sundquist in 2002 and 2005 and by Gov. (Phil) Bredesen in 2008 to serve on the Tennessee State Veterans Nursing Home board of directors. He’s still serving.
“He has done an outstanding job helping our veterans and their dependents. We are fortunate to have a man of his caliber in that position. Obviously, he doesn’t do it for the money. A salary of about $6,000 a year isn’t much.”
Published in The Messenger 4.29.10

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