Earlier this year, the Nevada Office of Veterans Services received a series of inquiries from Governor Sandoval’s Office regarding our Veteran Advocacy and Support Team.
The Governor was particularly interested in learning about the amount of benefits received by veterans through the efforts of our veteran service officers, and where the greatest current and anticipated needs were in the state. Through our responses to the Governor’s Office, I was happy to reply that through the Green Zone Initiative we have undertaken an enormous statewide effort to improve delivery of services to Nevada’s veterans, and that increasing the personnel on our Veterans Advocacy and Support Team was a need we had identified.
Eventually, with the Governor’s support, our office approached the Interim Finance Committee for two additional service officer positions, both of which were approved and funded in October of this year.
Service officers perform many tasks for service members, veterans, and their families, however, they are primarily trained to assist veterans in managing the federal Department of Veterans Affairs’ claims process. The claims process is often difficult and can take a long time to navigate, and our service officers are great resources when filing claims for service-connected disabilities, pension and compensation, as well as numerous other VA benefits. Each service officer on our team is responsible for over a million dollars in benefits to Nevada’s veterans annually, money which is saved and spent in local communities around our state.
The Governor’s requests originated from an executive branch audit from May of 2007. That audit made several recommendations, and one was for our office to seek funding and approval for four additional service officers throughout the state. In previous legislative sessions, we sought and were approved for two of these additional service officer positions, both of which were located in the then newly-created Elko office, which we established in conjunction with the generous support of the Elko County Commission. The two remaining VSO positions were requested through the budget process but were not approved due to statewide budget constraints.
Unfortunately, due to continued budget constraints the following legislative session, we had to make the difficult decision to reduce two additional service officer positions, positions that were vacant at the time. Although it was a difficult decision, every state agency faced the same budget constraints at that time and our office was no exception. When they approved the biennial budget, the legislators who approved our proposed budget recognized that it was a difficult decision, but they agreed that it was the only way to meet our budget requirements with the least impact on the veteran population. We have since reinstated one of those two positions while greatly increasing our efforts to expand into rural Nevada with the ROVER program.
Prior to the Governor’s efforts and encouragement to secure these two new positions, we have worked internally to address the statewide needs for veterans and their family members through a strategic approach. This has allowed us to not only maximize the use of our existing resources, but also be best prepared to anticipate the future growth of the veteran population until future resources are identified to assist us in our efforts. We currently operate full- and part-time offices in Reno, Fallon, Elko, Las Vegas, and at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City to serve the nearly 300,000 veterans in our state, and these two new service officer positions fit perfectly into our statewide plan thanks to our re-alignment to our outreach and advocacy efforts.
The additional staff and strategic re-alignment of our service officer program will significantly improve the services we’re able to provide to our veterans. While we are completely comfortable with our staffing levels and at a time when we are anticipating an increase in the number of veterans to our state, we appreciate all of the support from the State that we have received in recognizing this need for our veterans. I cannot thank Governor Sandoval enough for his support and effort to help us receive funding for these two very important new positions and look forward to working with him in the future as we continue to seek the resources we need to serve Nevada’s veterans and their families.
Caleb S. Cage is the executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Gov.Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog.