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Brookhaven to share veterans services agency

Brookhaven Town Hall is located at 1 Independence

Brookhaven Town Hall is located at 1 Independence Hill in Farmingville. The town is offering free drug testing kits to concerned parents. (Aug. 17, 2008) Credit: Newsday File / Bill Davis

The Brookhaven Town board has agreed to allow Suffolk's Veterans Service Agency to open an office in Town Hall as part of a shared service agreement.

Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine cast the deciding vote Tuesday on the resolution, which passed 4-3. He has said the county's veterans service officer, who will replace the town's staffer, has more certifications and can provide counseling, identify eligible benefits and legally take power of attorney and represent veterans.

"We need to step it up a bit more," Romaine told the board and hundreds of audience members at the meeting.

The pact means Brookhaven Town Veterans Services neighborhood aide John Rago, 62, of Brookhaven, will lose his job. "It's not about my job; I'm retired," said Rago, a former appliance technician with General Motors, who served in the Navy from 1970-72. "But there are a lot of things that won't get done that I did."

He said he often helped veterans in the community and arranged a successful veterans health check event last year.

Councilwoman Kathy Walsh voted against the measure because she said the town unsuccessfully attempted a similar program in 2007, when a county services officer traveled to Brookhaven a few times a week for free, offering similar services.

Veterans did not take advantage of the program, which was eventually removed, she said.

Brookhaven will pay the county $25,000 annually for the incoming part-time employee, matching Rago's salary. Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, who also opposed the agreement, said it did not seem to provide savings.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said during a news conference last week in Farmingville the change reflected wise fiscal policy.

"We're dealing with very difficult financial times in government . . . and we have to get creative about how we're going to deliver services," Bellone said.

Romaine said last week, "We're looking to enhance and provide services for veterans returning home from a long, hard war."

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