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Copin House, a residential treatment program for war veterans, is striving to broaden its financial base to make up for funds lost a year ago when a trust fund from victims of Agent Orange ran out.

George Edwards Jewelers, 2131 Sawyer Drive, Wheatfield, is donating proceeds from the sale of watch batteries to Copin House through December. At $4 each, it should bring in hundreds of dollars.

Sharon McGrath, founder and director of the 12-year-old facility on Buffalo Avenue, said the Agent Orange funds provided $100,000 or more of the Copin House annual budget of $350,000 to $370,000, until the trust fund was exhausted. It was set up with payments from chemical companies as a result of class-action litigation.

The current Niagara County budget provides $25,000 for Copin House, but no payment has been made because Copin House so far has not met requirements to receive the funds, said Sharon Sacco, county budget director.

Ms. McGrath said donations cover about 10 percent of the facility's expenses, and expressed gratitude for Edwards' support.

"George is conscientious about the community and has been a strong supporter of Copin House," she said.

In addition to the loss of Agent Orange funds, Copin House, like many agencies, is coping with vast changes in health-care and social-service funding, and is "exploring all avenues" to strengthen its finances and operations, she said.

"Everybody's trying to keep up with the changes. You do the best you can. We're having a difficult time, but the problems are going to be resolved. I'm not going to throw in the towel," she said.

The 15-bed residence also provides services to non-resident veterans and serves both male and female veterans. The caseload has declined and staff has been cut, she said.

"We've brought in a psychiatrist as a consultant so we can provide more comprehensive services and get reimbursed. We're trying to find a way to get reimbursed by Medicaid and other third-party payers," said Thomas J. Caserta Jr., a Copin House board member and lawyer.

Copin House is paid by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department for room and board but not treatment for patients discharged and referred by veterans' hospitals, but the number of these referrals is declining, Ms. McGrath said.

Caserta said, "We've been working with the (county) budget director and we believe we will satisfy the requirements soon" to qualify for the county appropriation.

Mrs. Sacco said the county has asked for a financial plan to show the agency is viable and will continue to provide public benefits before it receives county funds. The county also has offered assistance of county personnel in developing the financial plan.

Ms. McGrath said changes are being made to make the Copin House board of directors more broadly representative, as requested by the county.

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