A new Veterans Affairs Office has positioned Horry County to move from having the second fastest-growing veteran population in the country to the fastest growing, according to Ronnie Elvis, director of Veterans Affairs.
Horry County is second only to one Florida community, according to Elvis, who says with more than 30,000 veterans, Horry has the second largest veteran population in South Carolina, behind only Richland County, the home of Fort Jackson.
Elvis said Horry County had the fifth largest veteran population in the state only three years ago when he stepped into the director’s position. He expects to move into first place in the next three to five years.
Elvis welcomed in the community Friday morning to see the new office at 1949 Industrial Park Drive, the front office in the Johnny Shelley Agricultural Building.
“We think the overall place is more appealing. It’s more respectful. It’s brighter. It’s more modern,” he said.
And in regard to his clientele, he said, “I think when they see it for the first time they’re going to appreciate it.”
Friday was one of not only celebrating the new office and its more streamlined operations, but also celebrating veterans, a number of whom attended the ribbon cutting.
“I work with American heroes everyday,” said Elvis, who spent 27 years in military service himself.
Elvis says the new office is slightly smaller than the old office on Oak Street, but is much more suitable for its services. The new office is completely accessible for the disabled. There are no steep ramps and the automatic doors are all wide enough for wheelchairs.
“This is just a more up-to-date building that is 100 percent ADA compliant, down to the bathrooms and everything,” he said.
The director said he received nothing but positive comments from his customers during his first week in the office.
His staff closed its Oak Street office Nov. 2, moved the contents themselves, with the help of their spouses and friends, and opened in the Industrial Park, off of U.S. 701 north on Monday.
Parking is easier, it’s cleaner and the parking lot is paved, he said.
Elvis is also happy to list his office as having the largest staff in the state with seven employees. He recently convinced the county staff to give him one additional person, but he continues to operate with six because one of the staffers is out on medical leave.
Elvis says he doesn’t have any trouble understanding why Horry County’s veterans’ population is growing so fast.
“It’s a desirable place for a lot of people to live and many of them are veterans,” he said. “I would like to attribute it to the Veterans Affairs Office, but they’ve already moved down here before they come to this office,” he said, but adding that many of them contact his office before they move to see what kind of resources are available.
The office works now on appointments only so there are no more longer uncomfortable waits, he said.
His office averages seeing about 60 veterans each day, but that can range from 50 to 80, he said, depending on what services the veterans are there for.
They have about 21,000 active claims at the moment. All of those claims are not from veterans; some are from spouses, children and other dependents.
Elvis was complimentary of the county’s administrators and council for helping him get the new office and additional staff person.
“It speaks volumes about the respect that this county has for its veteran heroes. It makes me proud to be a veteran of Horry County,” he said.
Call (843) 915-5480 for appointments, which are handled Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and 8 a.m.-noon on Friday.
Horry County Councilman Mark Lazarus told the group assembled Friday morning that he never served in the military, so he promised himself he would do something to give back to his community. That’s when he ran for Horry County Council chairman.
He classified providing the new office and additional staff person for the office as probably one of his best accomplishments since taking the chairman’s job.
“I can tell you I was disappointed that we had not done better in the past,” he said when he began to investigate the state of the veterans office.
He also had kind words for Elvis who he said is passionate about his job and was determined to see the office improved.
“He was ready to go to the mat to work for it,” Lazarus said.
S.C. Senator Luke Rankin, R-33, also offered his gratitude to Elvis for the work he has been doing for veterans.
He said when the Horry County Delegation appointed Elvis to the position, Elvis was set on taking an old, antiquated office and bringing it up-to-date, and he’s done it by shortening the time that people have to wait for service and not leaving them sitting stacked up while they wait.
Elvis says Horry County’s largest veteran population is now located in Carolina Forest. That is followed by the Longs/Loris area and then the Socastee/Murrells Inlet area.