Bill would give $250 million to local veterans offices to fight suicide
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 11, 2019
WASHINGTON — Four senators introduced a measure Wednesday that would give $250 million in federal funding over the next five years to local government employees responsible for helping veterans process claims for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., backed the bill as a method to combat veteran suicide.
County Veteran Service Offices, known as CVSOs, help veterans enroll in VA health care. According to the latest VA suicide report released in September, suicide rates among veterans who had recently received VA health care increased at a slower pace than those of veterans who had not. Of the veterans who died by suicide in 2017, 62% had not recently received treatment from the VA.
“County Veteran Service Offices are on the front lines every day working to combat this tragic crisis,” Baldwin said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will support their efforts to provide needed services and solutions for our veterans that will improve their health and well-being.”
The Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act would give $50 million annually to County Veteran Services Offices for five years. The VA would award the money as grants to increase the number of employees at CVSOs across the United States.
Local employees, who must be accredited by the VA, process about $22 billion in benefits for veterans in their communities each year. There are about 1,700 accredited employees across 36 states.
According to the National Association of Counties, the local offices are almost entirely funded at the county level, even though they process federal benefits.
Sullivan, who represents Alaska, a state with a high suicide rate across its population, said that increasing the number of CVSO employees could help reach “off-the-grid veterans.”
“This bipartisan bill … will reinforce the VA’s mission to expand its reach and ensure veterans who live in rural, frontier states do not get left behind,” Sullivan said in a statement.
The legislation has support from the National Association of Counties and the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, as well as several local officials and CVOs.