By Wayne Gates
About 30 veterans and others met with the Brown County Veteran’s Services Commission on Tuesday, July 31 to talk about the performance of the office and Director Ralph Fox.
Fox was placed on administrative leave on July 2 after allegations of abusive behavior in the office were filed against him by fellow Veterans Service Officer Cheryl Childers.
Fox’s performance was also the subject of criticism in a letter to the BCVS commission from Rick Rhoades of VFW 9772 in Mt. Orab.
The BCVS board met in executive session with Fox and his attorney on July 23 to hear his side of the story. Following the meeting, the board decided to seek public comment.
Three smaller groups were brought into the small conference room where everyone who wished to speak was given the opportunity.
Of the twenty or so that spoke, a majority of them spoke favorably of Fox and his performance.
Veteran Gary Maschinot was overcome with emotion when he told the board, “I’ve known Ralph for 40 years and he’s the only guy that ever helped me. My paperwork was so messed up you wouldn’t believe it, but that man right there (Fox) got every bit of it squared away.”
Veteran Robert Back said, “I’ve known Ralph Fox for a long long time and he has helped me and several members of my family get through problems with the (Veteran’s Administration). He has done nothing but help us and has never been anything but kind to all of us.”
There were also complaints about Fox’s performance and treatment of those asking for services.
“He flat told me that he can’t help me. He told me that right to my face in 2007. So I go down to Clermont County and they took me right in and took care of me,” said veteran David McKee.
Former Georgetown Veterans Home Administrator Drew Vogel told the board, “In 2009, I became the administrator of the veteran’s home in Georgetown. One of the first things I heard when I became administrator was ‘Don’t bother to get in touch with the local VSO, they don’t do anything for anybody.’
He then addressed the performance of the board itself.
“This has been percolating for a long time. Why didn’t you guys know about it? I have to believe that you did. Why didn’t you do something before it got to this point? It’s a big embarrassment,” Vogel said.
Board member Ralph Quallen made the point that they can’t make or change policy on hearsay.
“Any veteran that feels like they have been denied something or talked to the wrong way even, we had a sign posted on the other building that if any veteran wants to address the board, feel free to do so on the 4th Tuesday of the month,” Quallen said.
“If we don’t hear about a problem, we can’t do anything about it. And it has to be done in a formal manner. People have to come to us and tell us what happened.”
He added that a similar sign needed to be posted on the door of the current office.
Cristine Royer, who works at the VA office two doors down from the BCVS office said that she has had many people complain about the office to her.
“In the last six months, I’ve had no less than 25 to 30 people come to me and say we have to go down to Clermont because they won’t come over here because Ralph is irreverent to them, rude to them,” she said.
“I asked (Clermont County Veterans Services Executive Director) Howard (Daugherty) how many people have been referred to them from Brown County because of Ralph and his disregard to our veterans. He said 30 to 40 percent or more. That’s unacceptable.”
Following the meeting, Fox’s attorney, John Woliver, spoke to The News Democrat.
“Out of the 25 people that spoke, most of them were positive for Ralph and the job he has done over many years,” he said.
When asked about the specific complaints of Childers, Rhoades and others, Woliver said “There were certain allegations made that Ralph stated were just untrue. That has been communicated to the commission.”
When asked about the allegation that Fox grabbed Childers by the arm while holding a gun in the other hand, Woliver said “Ralph denies having a firearm while touching her. He flatly denies that.”
Woliver said that moving forward, “The commission understands that they have to create a climate that if any individual feels that they have been unfairly treated, they should immediately feel comfortable enough to go to the commission. They have a tough job and they are trying to do their best.”
Regarding Fox, Woliver said “I think it would be appropriate to restore Ralph to full duty.”
The BCVS commission will meet again at 9 a.m. on Thursday, August 2 to hear from other employees in the office as their investigation continues. Fox remains on administrative leave with pay.