In an effort to build unprecedented support for increased funding for veterans service officers, Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez is calling on all Coachella Valley mayors and Blythe to draft letters of support for Senate Bill 1043.

The impetus for the bill – and the request for widespread support – is the 29,000 veterans in the Coachella Valley and the 130,000 in Riverside County.

Riverside County has the third highest veteran population in the state and is the host of two major military installations; various National Guard facilities and installations; and state and federal reserve facilities and installations.

SB 1043, introduced by state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, seeks increasing funding for Veteran Service Officers to a $7 million appropriation. During the recession, funding from the state for the program dropped from $11 million annually to $3 million. The current level of funding, which is shared among California’s 58 counties, currently stands at $5.6 million.

Veteran Service Officers assist veterans and their families in many ways, including: answering questions, advising, and educating individuals and groups on what benefits are available from federal, state, county, and local resources and assisting eligible persons in filing the necessary claims.

Restoration of full funding would enable to the county to bring on more Veteran Service Officers, veterans helping veterans gain access to their benefits.

n the desert, there are two Veteran Service Officers to service 29,522 veterans. That’s roughly one person each for 14,000 veterans.

During the past three years, Riverside County Veterans Service Officers generated millions in new benefit payments for disabled veterans, or an average of $33 million annually, ranking Riverside County second in utilization of benefits in the state, according to Perez.

Perez has requested the mayors send letters of support for the legislation to Newman.

Valley Mayors Are Key to More Money for Veterans

(Photo courtesy of V. Manuel Perez)

“Veterans Service Officers are the vanguard for California veterans and their access to benefits for health care, education and numerous other benefits they earned,” Perez told mayors. “Over the past three years, Riverside County’s Veteran Service Officers have helped veterans receive nearly $100 million in benefit payments.”

In December, the Board of Supervisors unanimously directed county advocates to request increased funding for veteran service officers. SB 1043 was introduced as the response.

Fighting for veterans is nothing new for Perez. While in the state Assembly, Perez served as vice chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Perez to the District 4 seat, which covers the Coachella Valley, until the November 2018 election. He was appointed to fill the seat left vacant in the wake of Supervisor John Benoit’s death in December 2016.

Perez is being challenged by Jan Harnik, a Republican and a member of the Palm Desert City Council. Voters will elect the supervisor in June.