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Helping veterans get the services they need, and have earned

Every November 11, Veterans Day, we honor our military veterans. It’s an opportunity to recognize their service, and to show our support and gratitude. 

It is of course well and good that we have holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. But frankly, the real measure of our thanks is whether we are genuinely prepared to help veterans reclaim their lives when they come home. 

Upon returning to their civilian lives, the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces may need specialized health care, help finding jobs or furthering their educations, or financial assistance to take care of themselves and their families.

Our veterans have earned this support. They are legally entitled to military service benefits, but getting these benefits is not always easy. Many veterans do not know where to start. Even those who have successfully applied may end up finding out later they were entitled to more. The process to appeal can be complicated and confusing.

We need to do more to help veterans take advantage of available benefits and services. I’m gratified colleagues on the Board of Supervisors agreed, approving my proposal, made together with Supervisor Otto Lee, to increase staffing at Santa Clara County’s Veterans Service Office (VSO), an agency established in 1944 and co-funded by the state and county. Our VSO is the primary means for the County to connect with our 64,000-plus resident veterans. 

VSO staff members are on the frontline serving veterans, helping them navigate the sprawling and byzantine federal system that is our US Department of Veterans Affairs. Our Veterans Services Representatives (VSRs) are certified advocates with full access to the VA system, helping veterans evaluate all possible benefits for themselves and eligible dependents, fill out and file paperwork, and assist with appeals. 

And, since the County’s VSO is part of our Social Services Agency, it’s also a one-stop shop for veterans to receive referrals to other County-run programs and services. 

In July, the VSO organized our County’s inaugural Stand Down Resource Fair to introduce and connect our veterans to local providers offering free services related to housing, employment, food, clothing, health care, benefits counseling, and substance abuse treatment. 

The event increased the VSO’s visibility in the County’s veteran community, and that resulted in an increased number of veterans seeking assistance. It’s a good thing all around that more and more veterans living in our County are asking for help. But to meet their needs — and to get them the benefits they’ve earned — the VSO also needs more help. 

So, over the next two years, the County will add new VSRs, and develop a plan to consider additional staffing needs, including social workers and office specialists, as well as options to address the VSO’s high rate of staff turnover. 

While adding staff comes at a cost to the County, many VSO positions, including trained VSRs, generate offsetting state and federal revenues. And investment by the County yields tangible results in additional dollars for our County’s veterans, and more importantly, by improving their health and wellbeing. 

This article was originally published in Campbell Press in November 2023.