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Fulton County Hires New Director of Veterans Services Agency

After an approximately five-month search for candidates for a new director for the county Veterans Services Agency, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to nominate the Gloversville resident and Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Ian Pitcavage to serve the remainder of the position’s generally two-year term, ending December 31, 2023.

Pitcavage will receive a pro-rated salary of $46,807 for the remainder of 2022 and then, provided he continues to work, will receive a raise to $53,447 in 2023.

Pitcavage said he decided to apply for the job after his wife saw a newspaper advertisement. He said he went through the process of applying for federal disability benefits himself, and that the county Veterans Services Agency director’s main job was to help veterans through their lives. this process.

“I understand and have a lot of empathy for veterans going through this process,” he said.

Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead described the candidate search process.

“Right after the first of the year, we posted announcements and solicited applications, and frankly, we went through the first round with none of the applicants meeting the minimum qualifications for the job,” Stead said. “We went out and advertised a little bit more broadly, and Mr. Pitcavage was involved in that process, both at committee level and at board level, and was appointed [May 9].”

The post has been vacant since January when the Supervisory Board at its annual organizational meeting opted not to reappoint former Veterans Services Agency director Dan Engel in a rare vote 14 to 3, with only council Democrats – 1st Ward Supervisor. Marie Born, 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria and 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young – voting to back Engel for another two-year term.

A combination of state and federal minimum requirements make for a relatively small pool of candidates to fill the position of full-time director of a county veterans services agency. New York State requires county agency managers to be residents of the county they work for, have a bachelor’s degree and three years of management experience, or have an associate’s degree with five years of management experience.

New York State also requires that the director of the county veterans agency be a veteran who has served in the active military for at least 10 years and during a period when the U.S. military was involved in a armed conflict.

The state also requires directors of veterans service agencies to eventually obtain federal Veterans Services Organization (VSO) accreditation within one year of their appointment.

Stead said obtaining accreditation from the veterans organization is critical to allowing the director of the county Veterans Services Agency to work directly with veterans and their families as they pursue their applications for benefits from the federal government, the main activity of the position. He said Pitcavage agreed to get federal certification within a year, but he could work in the meantime by helping refer veterans to others who have federal certification. the organization.

“We do it now, even when the position was vacant, we have [senior typist Brenda Anich] working in this office full time and she relayed [local veterans’ claims] and working with other VSOs throughout,” he said. “We’re doing pretty well keeping up [benefit claim] applications that have been filed previously, and also working with one of the state VSOs for one of the new applications that have been filed in the first quarter of this year, so yes there have been other VSOs filling for now, and he will eventually rise to speed up and become a VSO himself.

Pitcavage is a 1990 Gloversville High School graduate who served in the United States Army for approximately 21 years, serving as a military police officer for the 543 Military Police Company, stationed at Fort Drum.

Pitcavage said he met the criteria to serve during a time of armed conflict, and biographical information about him released by Fulton County indicated he had served on peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. and during a three-year deployment to the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He said after earning an associate’s degree from Fulton-Montgomery Community College, he got a job with Townsend Leather as a “dry floor leader” from 2012 to 2019, where he often had up to to 30 people working under him. Since then, he has been self-employed as a state-licensed mold assessment inspector and works in the local area.

Pitcavage said he would quit his job as a mold inspector to become the full-time director of the Fulton County Veterans Services Agency.

The supervisory board’s decision to keep the branch manager on a full-time basis, despite the difficulties in finding someone who meets the hiring criteria, is a continuation of a policy that the former branch manager the Engel agency had pressured the council to adopt it.

Engel had successfully lobbied the Board to expand his position from part-time in 2018 to full-time from 2019, arguing that he could have more success in pursuing often difficult and complex veterans’ benefit claims in working full time.

In December, Engel sent the board of oversight a report that included a chart from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs showing that total federal spending on veterans in Fulton County fell from $18.8 million in 2018 to 23. $.4 million in 2019 — a jump of $4.5 million — the first year Engel was full-time. The increase occurred despite the decline in the total number of veterans living in Fulton County from 3,824 in 2018 to 3,726 for 2019. The number of veterans declined again in 2020 to 3,711, but total federal spending continued to rise, reaching $24.9 million.

After he was not reappointed, Engel and several of his vocal supporters in the Fulton County veterans community argued that his aggressive style and knowledge of the VA department enabled him to both to help local veterans get the benefits they were entitled to and to help bring in federal money. revival in Fulton County.

Engel in January attributed the council’s choice not to rename it to several factors, including office policy regarding the county department being allowed to move into the former Fulton County Emergency Management office space on Route 29 and increased friction between Engel and Stead.

Engel had argued that the county veterans services agency needed to be moved from the basement of the county building at 223 W. Main St. in Johnstown in part because it lacked privacy for veterans speak openly about their state of health and because he did not. believed there was a properly accessible method of exiting the basement office for a disabled veteran in a wheelchair, both of Stead’s assertions said the county government does not believe they are correct.

Engel described an incident in June 2021 when he said he accidentally left his cell phone in Fulton County Board of Supervisors chambers during a council executive session and someone called the phone, revealing his presence. Several supervisors confirmed that this story was true.

Engel said in January that legal counsel had advised him not to discuss the details of the cell phone incident, but said that “it has been proven that I never recorded anything, I’ll tell you say”.

Since then, Fulton County has announced a departmental relocation plan that moves the County Department of Information Technology and the Fulton County Board of Elections to the Route 29 office formerly occupied by the Office of Management. Fulton County ER. The office relocation plan also moves the Veterans Services Agency to space next to the highway department and facilities in the “Complex I” building on Route 29.

On Monday, Stead said the Veterans Services Agency would not complete its move to the Route 29 office until mid-June, with Pitcavage’s start date set for around June 1.

“Construction of the new workspace has begun, and we hope that by the end of this month or perhaps mid-June it will be ready for the transfer of all equipment, offices, operations, and much more. sure we have to get computer connections and lines and all that stuff,” Stead said.

Pitcavage said he was not concerned about the location of VSA’s office.

“It’s not what the office looks like, it’s what you do when you’re in it,” Pitcavage said.

Pitcavage said he had no comment on his predecessor, but also said he would not judge his own performance based on a comparison to the amount of federal benefits obtained for local veterans during his tenure. ‘Engel.

“I’m approaching this job like I’ve approached any other job I’ve done in the military and it’s to get in there and perform it to the best of my abilities,” he said. .

The US Department of Veterans Affairs publishes annually updated county-level expenditure data online at www.va.gov/vetdata/expenditures.asp.

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