Later this week, the New York State Veterans Benefits Advisors office will be moving from its longtime home in Amherst Town Hall to a new location not far to the east along Main Street, where it will join other services available to local veterans under the roof of a not-for-profit which is already eyeing further expansion.
The move is expected to begin by Wednesday into a vacant office space inside the headquarters of WNY Heroes, Inc., located in the Stonegate Office Park, on Main Street just east of Transit Road in Clarence. Completion of the move is anticipated by Friday, April 19. Officials say there will be no interruption of services during the move.
WNY Heroes offers programs such as grants to veterans who may need help catching up with mortgage, rent or utility payments, connections with service dogs, scholarships and support for children of military families. Its co-founder and president, Chris Krieger, says welcoming the state's veteran benefits office under their roof will create more convenient access to services his organization does not provide.
"We get veterans coming in all the time, asking if we can help them with benefits or school, things like that, that we don't do," Krieger said. "Having New York State Benefit Services in our building now, we can offer that."
The New York State Division of Veterans Services, in response to WBFO's request for comment, issued the following written statement: “We are grateful to Amherst Town Hall for hosting our Veterans Benefits Advisors throughout the years and providing us with the space to assist Veterans and their families. We look forward to continuing to serve Veterans and their families in Amherst at our new office at WNY Heroes starting on April 19, 2019. This move allows us to co-locate with other services for Veterans (social workers and case managers) to create a comprehensive approach that can better address the needs of the Veterans we serve. Our new office will have increased accessibility for those Veterans with disabilities and more space for us to accommodate Veterans and their families simultaneously. We are excited to continue with our mission of assisting Veterans and their families in accessing the benefits they earned for their service in the United States military.”
Krieger admits at first, he and his organization were hesitant about moving into their address, where they opreate rent-free. Their concerns included whether they'd get the volume of traffic to justify their location. They've been kept busy.
"It's on a bus route, a block or two away from the corner of Transit and Main," he noted. "The influx of veterans coming to us has been overwhelming."
They're already eyeballing further expansion, taking over additional suites within their section of the business park and looking toward further partnerships. Up the street at Eastern Hills Mall is the Hope Project of Western New York. Although no agreements are in place to move the Hope Project, there is a plan to eventually convert the mall into a mixed-use "town center," Krieger feels the Hope Project would be a good fit under the WNY Heroes roof.
"The Hope Project is all about clothing and food. We refer a lot of our veterans there," he said.