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SB-296 County veterans service officers.(2013-2014)

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SB296:v98#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Senate  April 01, 2013

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2013–2014 REGULAR SESSION

Senate Bill No. 296


Introduced by Senator Correa

February 15, 2013


An act to add Section 972.3 to the Military and Veterans Code, relating to county veterans service officers, and making an appropriation therefor.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 296, as amended, Correa. County veterans service officers.
Existing law requires funds to be disbursed each fiscal year on a pro rata basis to counties that have established and maintained a county veterans service officer in accordance with the staffing level and workload of each county veterans service officer, under a specified formula.
This bill would appropriate the sum of $5,000,000 $9,000,000 from the General Fund to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the disbursement to counties to fund the activities of county veterans service officers and veterans service organizations, as specified.
Vote: 2/3   Appropriation: YES   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) The recent conflicts in the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan are creating an entirely new generation of veterans who may be eligible for federal veterans benefits because of their war service and their physical and mental condition. California service members make up to 10 percent of the military forces used in these conflicts.
(b) The California National Guard and California-based reserve units have contributed significantly to these current conflicts.
(c) Many of these returning California veterans are not aware of the federal and state benefits that are available to them.
(d) Additionally, it is estimated that in California there may be over two million veterans and their widows or widowers, who are unaware that they may be eligible for pensions from the federal government based upon their past military service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War.
(e) California’s county veterans service officers (CVSO’s) are the initial local point of contact for claimants accessing the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
(f) The costs of maintaining CVSO’s are shared from county general funds and state reimbursement to the counties. In 1997, in order to track performance, the Governor signed into law Senate Bill 608, which required the Department of Veterans Affairs to annually report the amount of monetary benefits paid to veterans by the federal government that were attributable to the assistance of CVSO’s. Senate Bill 608 of the 1997–98 Regular Session requires the Department of Finance to consider an increase in the annual budget for CVSO’s of up $5,000,000, to $5 million, if approved in the yearly budget process. In 2009, the Governor signed Senate Bill 419 into law, which raised this amount to $11,000,000, if approved in the yearly budget process.
(g) As a result of this annual reporting, by the end of 2011 it had been determined that from 1995 to 2011, the state had cumulatively budgeted $36.2 million for its share of the cost of the CVSO’s. As a result of this investment, CVSO’s were able to assist local veterans in obtaining $3.3 billion in new federal moneys. This is a return of about $91 for every dollar the state allocates to CVSO’s. Furthermore, $3.6 billion only reflects the actual monetary benefits qualified for in a given year. The monetary benefits qualified for in prior years are not tracked, yet the veterans and their dependents may continue to receive those benefits for the rest of their life. Added to this stellar return on the state’s investment, but not counted in the annual reporting are the Medi-Cal cost avoidance savings incurred as a result of CVSO’s qualifying and shifting veterans away from Medi-Cal and onto the appropriate federal veterans program.
(h) CVSO’s had accomplished all of this without ever reaching the allowable state budget allocation of $5 million, set in 1997, or the updated allowable allocation set in 2009. To date, the CVSO’s have not received more than $2.6 million per year from the state.
(i) It is critical that the CVSO’s receive an increase in this allocation because there continues to be a large number of underserved veterans and their dependents who are not aware of the federal benefits available to them as a result of their military service. Studies from other states have shown that increases in CVSO’s have resulted in larger amounts of federal moneys to the veterans. These new federal moneys and benefits are paid directly from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to the qualifying veteran or their dependent and are used in the local economy.

SEC. 2.

 Section 972.3 is added to the Military and Veterans Code, to read:

972.3.
 Notwithstanding any other law, the sum of five nine million dollars ($5,000,000) ($9,000,000) is hereby appropriated from the General Fund to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the disbursement to counties in accordance with the existing procedures established under Section 972.1. as follows:
(a) Seven million six hundred thousand dollars ($7,600,000) to counties to fund the services of county veterans service officers, including, but not limited to, increased outreach to veterans that are unaware of benefits to which they may be entitled and assisting veterans to file claims.
(b) One million four hundred thousand dollars ($1,400,000) to veterans service organizations to support the services of those organizations under Section 699.5, including, but not limited to, outreach to veterans that are unaware of benefits to which they may be entitled and assisting veterans to file claims.