This story has been updated from its original version.
MANATEE -- After Florida Gov. Rick Scott last month vetoed $758,000 in funding for Goodwill Manasota, three out of five veterans service positions were eliminated.
"I got a phone call, and they told me, 'Go get your stuff, it's over,'" said Don Hill, a former employee of the veterans service program at Manasota Goodwill. "And that was it."
Goodwill Manasota President and CEO Bob Rosinsky said the pilot program to expand their services to more areas, which began in 2014, was supposed to be funded with $403,000 over two years from the state budget. Scott's veto meant they lost the ability to fund the additional positions for the second year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
"We're going to continue the services that we provided before," Rosinsky said. "But it will probably take longer for people to get services because we don't have as many people."
Rosinsky clarified the effects of Scott's veto on Friday, after the Bradenton Herald originally reported that five positions had been cut. The agency Thursday released a prepared statement about the reductions in its veterans program, but officials were not made available to answer questions until Friday.
The veterans service program works with veterans directly and coaches them through all needs, whether it was financial help, job skills, clothing, food or health care. If Goodwill couldn't provide the services directly, Hill said they would make sure veterans were connected to groups that could help.
"One time, we had a veteran dying of lung cancer, and we helped his family, who had nothing, furnish their house and get food," Hill said. "We helped people turn their lives around. And people were so surprised by what we could do for them. We cared, we really did."
Scott's budget said the item was vetoed because it "circumvents the established grant review process." Spokesman Stephen Lawson added that Scott invested $600,000 in Goodwills statewide in the budget.
Carl Hunsinger, vice chairman of the Manatee County Veterans' Council and a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, said they estimate there are 40,000 veterans in Manatee County. He said programs such as the one at Goodwill Manasota should be getting more funding, not less.
"It's about education of the benefits available," Hunsinger said. "We should have more funding for veterans programs, and we should educate them on what is already out there."
Hunsinger said it's ironic, since Goodwill Manasota has statements about how many veterans they've helped get jobs, now they had to lay off veterans.
"Since Goodwill Manasota claims to have helped 520 veterans as they reintegrate back into the workforce, how will they help the veterans they just released to the unemployment line due to lack of program funding?" Hunsinger asked.
Goodwill Manasota's veterans services are mainly funded through Goodwill funds and donations, but the expansion through state funds allowed them to serve more people, Rosinsky said.
Hill said working for the program was like being the "coaches and cheerleaders" for the veterans, making sure they had all the tools they needed to solve their problems.
Goodwill Manasota sent an email to veterans groups about the loss of the program after the veto announcement June 23.
"I am certain you are all aware that the governor vetoed the second-year funding for our veterans program," C.J. Bannister, director of veterans services, wrote in the email. "Our staff is meeting to assess the services we can provide to the community moving forward."
Rosinsky said in a statement Thursday that the veto would "severely diminish" their ability to provide veterans services, but they are still committed to helping veterans in the community. The actual cut in their funding would amount to somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000, since they spent some of those funds in the program's first year.
"Goodwill has had a commitment to providing those services since founding our Veterans Services Program in 2013," Rosinsky said. "We'll continue providing a full array of services despite the lack of funding and support from the governor's office."
Saying he was shocked by the turn of events and sudden cancellation of the positions, Hill said he's still going to continue to aid fellow veterans.
"Helping veterans is important to me," Hill said. "I'm looking for employment now, and there are a lot of programs that help veterans. We'll see what's next for me."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby