County VA making huge strides

Administrator says drivers needed desperately to help county's veterans


LEE COUNTY – Lee County Veterans Affairs Administrator Nikki Sugars has her work cut out for her. But it's work on some pretty lofty goals she’s set for herself.
Sugars is closing in on three years as the county’s veterans administrator after serving as the county’s election commissioner and deputy auditor.
Coming from a family steeped in military service, Sugars has been receiving rave reviews from veterans and county officials for her ability to connect much-needed services and compensation to about 25% of the county’s 2,250 veterans.
Part of that service is getting veterans to and from medical appointments throughout the region including Quincy, Burlington, and Iowa City. A donated van from Disabled American Veterans is used to transport veterans, but the county has been running short on drivers for the past several years.
Sugars would like to get that corrected.
“Right now we have four, but one is on medical and may not be able to return and another is set to be on vacation, so we’ll be down to just two drivers in February,” she said.
When the number of drivers gets that low, Sugars said, at some point, she may have to decline rides and she doesn’t want to do that. She said SEIBUS, a transportation system run by Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, will take veterans to Iowa City if schedules allow, and for a cost. The cost using the DAV van is absorbed by the county. The only other transportation available is a bus from the VA Centers that has to come down from Iowa City when it’s available.
Sugars said drivers just need to have a clean driving record and a desire to help the area's veterans.
“This is a volunteer position and all you have to have is a good driving record, and some ambition to help these people.”
She said any people who have even one day a week or even one day a month and are looking for ways to assist area veterans are encouraged to apply. The position requires some training on a regular trip to the VA hospital in Iowa City, but it's minimal.
The lack of drivers has been an issue for several years and Sugars said it has been labor intensive to coordinate everything while still trying to help veterans find other assistance, including housing and compensation for health issues created by the individual’s service.
Despite the focus on getting veterans to area health clinics, Sugars has been able to make huge strides in the services her office provides.
She set a goal in 2022 to surpass $1 million in assistance to the county’s veterans in 2023. She found out last week that number was $1,012,000.
She’s also taken the number of veterans being served from about 300 when she took over to more than 500 now, a number she said pales in comparison to what she wants to accomplish.
“I won’t be happy until we have 2,274 veterans being served,” she said.
“I suspect I’m going to be here for a while. These men and women served. They put their lives out there. I’m going to do everything I can to help them.”
She said in some cases she helped veterans who have been trying for three decades to get compensation, but have failed because they were trying to do it on their own. With some guidance and a few specific inquiries, Sugars, or her assistant Joshua Weeks, can get some benefits.
“Depending on their specific situation, if they were hurt or got sick from being in a certain area at a certain time, sometimes even for just one day, we can get compensation for them. They just need to come in and talk to us,” Sugars said.
At 100% compensation, veterans can see assistance of $3,000 per month.
“That’s a huge life changer for most of these people.”
She’s spent a good part of the past three years getting the word out to area veterans and that has paid some dividends. But she said another hurdle is the veterans coming to terms with the idea that it's okay to ask for help.

Lee County Veterans' Affairs, Nikki Sugars, volunteers, veterans, assistance, drivers, progress, services, compensation, news, Iowa, Lee County, Fort Madison, Keokuk, Pen City Current


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  • Buck_Man

    Just lost my Father February 3 and now am moving to Mount Pleasant, Iowa. This is the first thing I saw and have always wanted to contribute. Once am resituated, please call me.

    Sunday, February 4 Report this