Sullivan, Baldwin Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Access to Veterans’ Services

CVSO Act will expand community-based outreach to help veterans access services to improve their health and wellness and prevent suicide

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) reintroduced the Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act, a bipartisan bill to authorize federal funding for county veterans service officers (CVSOs) and veterans service officers (VSOs). Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

Out of the estimated 19 million veterans in the United States, only a small fraction utilize the care and benefits they’ve earned from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VSOs are often the first to inform veterans of their eligibility for these programs and services, particularly in rural areas. VSOs are local employees who are nationally accredited by the VA to help veterans process their VA claims. These employees are responsible for successfully processing more than $42 billion in claims annually for direct compensation and pension benefits for veterans. They also provide assistance to veterans on a range of benefits and services, including compensation benefits, home loans, education benefits, and job placement assistance. There is currently no federal funding support directly available for VSOs. 

“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. That is unacceptable,” said Senator Sullivan, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC). “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. Senator Baldwin and I are introducing legislation that 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.” 

“County Veteran Service Officers are often the first point of contact for our veterans to access the benefits and services available to them—particularly in rural communities,” said Senator Baldwin. “It is nothing short of our duty to ensure that those who bravely serve our country can better access and utilize their VA benefits with ease. This bipartisan legislation will make federal investments to help connect veterans and their families to the resources and care they’ve earned.”

The CVSO Act authorizes $50 million annually for five years to expand and support VSOs, or similar local entities, that currently assist veterans in obtaining critical benefits and services. The VA will award competitive grants to VSOs, through the states, to create, expand, or support programs that promote health and wellness, prevent suicide, and reach veterans who need help navigating the often-burdensome VA processes. By increasing the number of VSOs, states will be able to better leverage their local and federal resources to serve veterans. The legislation also allows the VA secretary to partner with comparable state, local or tribal entities, including tribal veteran service officers. 

The legislation is currently supported by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers (NACVSO), the Alaska and Wisconsin Departments of Veterans Affairs, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA), and multiple individual VSOs and local officials in Alaska and Wisconsin. 

“This bill reflects a wonderful partnership between the Senate, the VA, and the states working together on behalf of veterans. It will go a long way to ensure the delivery of health and wellness programs, combat suicide, and increase a state’s ability to improve outreach efforts and serve our veterans where they live – especially in frontier states, like Alaska. This is a huge step in keeping our nation’s promise to our veterans.” said Verdie Bowen, director of the Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs and former president of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs.

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