Washington (KINY) – On Wednesday evening, U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Tammy Baldwin’s (D-Wisc.) Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act passed the U.S. Senate unanimously.
The bipartisan legislation would expand and support Tribal Veterans Service Officers and County Veterans Service Officers (CVSO), the community-based employees who work directly with veterans to inform them of eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and services, file pension and compensation claims, and help them enroll in job, housing, disability, and education benefits. CVSOs play an outsized role in helping veterans in rural and other hard-to-reach communities connect with VA services.
“Less than half of Alaska’s more than 75,000 veterans are currently enrolled in the VA system, meaning a majority are not accessing the benefits and health care services that they have earned, including those struggling with mental illness,” said Senator Sullivan. “That is unacceptable. Alaska’s vast size and sparse population certainly contribute to this challenge, but local partners and veteran service officers present an opportunity to reach these off-the-grid veterans. I’m grateful that the Senate passed the Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act, introduced by Senator Baldwin and me. This legislation will reinforce the VA’s mission to expand its reach and ensure veterans who live in rural, frontier states—like Alaska—do not get left behind.”
Out of the estimated 19 million veterans in the United States, only a small fraction utilize the care and benefits they are entitled to.
While CVSOs work tirelessly to connect veterans with their federal benefits, they currently receive zero funding from the federal government. Specifically, the legislation would create a grant program to improve outreach to veterans and increase the number of county and tribal veterans service officers. By increasing the number of CVSOs, states will also be better able to leverage their local and federal resources to serve our veterans.
The Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act is supported by the National Association of Counties, the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, the Wisconsin and Alaska Departments of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin State Association of County Veterans Service Commissions and Committees, the Wisconsin Association of Counties, and the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs.