Veteran leads Kitsap County Veteran Assistance program

Jim McKenna has been named to lead the Kitsap County Veterans Assistance program. McKenna replaces Lief Bentsen who retired in December.
The Kitsap County Veterans Assistance program provides services to veterans who reside in Kitsap County through sales tax collected at the county level. The program has a budget of just over $300,000.
A 17-member board of directors oversees the needs of veterans in the county and allocates funding to address those needs. All of the board members are veterans. McKenna is the staff person who works for the board gathering information about service needs for veterans in the county.
McKenna is a Vietnam Veteran and also works as the OneStop manager at the WorkSource Kitsap office in east Bremerton. His position with the assistance program is part time.
“I come into this position with a back ground in banking,” he said. “For 28 years I was in banking and then I switched to working with WorkSource in programs that look at employment issues.”
Although there are three specialists at WorkSource who help veterans with employment issues, McKenna said the work of the county’s veterans assistance program has different goals.
“We look at the 36,000 veterans who live in Kitsap County and try to determine their needs,” he said. “For example, recently we’ve found that veterans need more transportation to medical appointments at area veterans’ hospitals and medical centers. So we are trying to allocate funding for more vans and more van trips.”
Homeless veterans and indigent veterans are two groups that also need attention, he said.
“We’re trying to find ways to address those issues,” he said.
Another thing that he and the board does is monitor state and federal legislation that affects veterans.
“Right now the State Legislature is considering implementing a one-tenth of one percent sales tax that will be dedicated to veteran (medical) care,” he said. “That’s something that we will be watching and working to get passed.”
Funding for the county program has been reduced because it is based on sales tax and in recent years, less sales tax has been collected, due to the economy.
“Just a few years ago, we had a budget of $500,000 to $600,000,” he said. “Funding has declined and even though 90 percent of all we get goes to direct services, we’re still seeing needs that aren’t being met.
“And we are concerned because we are seeing greater numbers of vets coming back home and getting out of the (military) service. We want to make sure we have the ability to help all of those who have served.”
McKenna was in the Army from 1968 to 1972, and spent 1968 and 1969 in Vietnam. He was an ammunitions expert. He has lived in the Bremerton area for 30 years. He is married and has two grown children, one grandchild with another on the way.
The assistance program is active in two well-known events that support veterans, McKenna said. One is the Stand Down, which this year will be April 27 at the Sheridan Center in Bremerton, beginning at 9 a.m.
“It’s a day where veterans can come and get services they need for free,” he said. “We have food and clothing available and there will be on-site dental care. It’s a time where veterans can make connections to other services they many need, too.”
The other event is the Run to Tahoma, which is on Memorial Day weekend. It’s a time when veterans escort the remains of veterans that have not been claimed to the veterans cemetery for burial.
“It’s done with full military honors,” he said. “We have about 300 veterans on motorcycles and the honor guard and a military fly over. It’s a very touching ceremony.”
The board of the assistance program meets monthly on the second Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. on the lower level of the Silverdale Community Center. Meetings are open to the public.
McKenna can be reached at, or at 360 337-4767.