Reps. Levin, Rodgers, Pappas, and Finstad Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Access to Veterans’ Services
Washington, D.C. – Today, Reps. Mike Levin (D-CA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chris Pappas (D-NH), and Brad Finstad (R-MN) reintroduced the bipartisan Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach (CVSO) Act to authorize federal funding to expand the work of county veterans service officers (CVSOs), who are often the best resource on the ground to assist veterans in securing the benefits they have earned.
Right now, many veterans are not utilizing their earned benefits because they do not have the information or ability to complete necessary paperwork. Out of 19 million veterans in the United States, only about 9.6 million are enrolled in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care, 5.3 million receive disability compensation, and 3.6 million are active VA home loan participants—with other VA programs showing similar rates of underutilization. To reduce this underutilization and increase awareness of services, the CVSO Act strengthens county veterans service officers’ efforts to conduct outreach and provide support to underserved veterans, which can improve overall health and wellness.
County veterans service officers are local county employees who are nationally accredited by the VA to prepare, present, and prosecute VA claims; provide assistance on a range of benefits; and are often the first to inform veterans about their eligibility for VA programs and services.
The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
“We have a responsibility to ensure that veterans and their families have easy access to the benefits and services that they have earned,” said Rep. Mike Levin. “That is why my colleagues and I are reintroducing this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to support the work of county veterans service officers who interact directly with our local veterans every day. I’m proud to spearhead the CVSO Act and I look forward to advancing this legislation with bipartisan support. While these types of bills rarely make national headlines, this is the work that truly makes a difference for our nation’s heroes.”
“Veteran service officers are often the only lifeline connecting veterans and their families with the benefits they earned in service to our country. This is especially true in rural communities where a shortage of VSOs is resulting in too many veterans slipping through the cracks,” said Rodgers. “No one who has put on the uniform should ever feel this way. While our bipartisan bill won’t fix everything, the long overdue investment it makes is a critical first step towards ensuring no veteran ever gets left behind again.”
“Veterans who have served our country and protected our freedom should not face any barriers when accessing the benefits and services they have earned,” said Congressman Chris Pappas. “This bipartisan legislation will support county veterans service officers who work locally with veterans to access their benefits, understand available resources, and apply for eligible programs. County veterans service officers are a vital pillar of support for our veterans, and I’m proud to lead this bill alongside Congressman Levin. I’ll continue working to ensure our veterans are treated with the utmost respect and can access resources and benefits they are owed.”
“In the state of Minnesota, we have an exceptional County Veteran Service Officers (CVSO) system,” said Rep. Finstad. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the case nationwide, which is why I am proud to cosponsor the Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act. This legislation will establish a grant program that can be used by CVSOs to improve veteran outreach, as well as train and hire additional officers. More importantly, this legislation will ensure that – no matter which state they live in – our veterans across the country can have the same outstanding service that we are blessed to have in Minnesota.”
“We have a commitment to do right by the troops who defended our country, and that includes helping them get the benefits and support that they have earned,” said Senator Baldwin. “Unfortunately, too many veterans do not, or are not able, to access the health care and support services they have worked for, particularly those in our rural and Native communities. This bipartisan legislation will help reach our veterans where they are and connect them with local advocates to get the benefits and support that they are owed.”
“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. “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 Veterans Service Officers (CVSO) and their local governmental equivalents carry a significant workload for the federal government when it comes to implementing VA policies and programs,” said NACVSO Legislative Chairman Michael McLaughlin. “The recent passing of historic legislation like the PACT Act, Blue Water Navy and the MISSION Acts has placed additional challenges on CVSOs in assisting veterans and their dependents gain access to services and benefits they have earned. Which is why NACVSO applauds the re-introduction of the bipartisan CVSO Act by Congressman Mike Levin. The CVSO Act would provide local support and resources for frontline advocates to meet the veterans where they are in their home communities to gain access to life altering benefits and health care.”
"As President of NASDVA (National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs), I would like to express our support for the CVSO Act (Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach),” said NASDVA President James S. Hartsell. “This grant program will benefit the State Departments of Veterans Affairs and local governments in our efforts to conduct outreach and assistance to our veterans and their family members. The funding will directly assist with support and training of State, County, Local and Tribal governmental Service Officers. We applaud Representative Mike Levin’s reintroduction of this important legislation.”
“The bipartisan Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach (CVSO) Act authorizes new, critical resources to help County Veterans Service Officers connect veterans to their well-earned VA benefits. This legislation would assist millions of veterans, especially in underserved and under-resourced rural areas,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “Counties thank Representative Mike Levin for reintroducing this necessary legislation, and we urge Congress to swiftly pass the CVSO Act.”
“America’s Warrior Partnership is proud to support the reintroduction of the Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach (CVSO) Act, and applauds Rep. Levin and Rep. McMorris-Rodgers for their efforts on this important legislation,” said Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP). “Outreach to veterans to help them navigate the benefits and programs they have earned is vital, and part of our core mission at America’s Warrior Partnership. This legislation recognizes the importance of outreach in our communities, and helps provide grants to further enable those efforts. We are proud to work closely with our partners at the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers (NACVSO) to support this bill.”
“The Green Beret Foundation (GBF) would like to provide support for the passage of the Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act (CVSO Act). The GBF and CVSOs have worked in cooperation for many years providing claims assistance for veterans. The GBF believes this legislation will enhance the ability of County Veterans Service Officers (CVSO) across the country to reach more veterans and with better trained CVSOs,” said Green Beret Foundation Director of Veterans Services John Armezzani.
The CVSO Act would authorize competitive grants to expand the work of CVSOs or comparable entities. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will award grants to states in order to improve outreach to veterans; enhance the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of veterans’ benefits claims; hire additional CVSOs; and train CVSOs for VA accreditation. To receive funds, a state must submit an application including a detailed plan for the use of these funds, how they will meet underserved veterans’ needs, and other information. A fact sheet is available here.
The CVSO Act is endorsed by the San Diego Military Advisory Council, National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, National Association of Counties, America’s Warrior Partnership, Green Beret Foundation, AMAC – Association of Mature American Citizens, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). The bill passed the House on December 1, 2022 by a vote of 401-18, but did not receive a Senate vote during the 117th Congress.
Click here for text of the legislation.