In my first eight months working as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’m beginning to learn just how complicated it can be for our veterans to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to obtain promised benefits and utilize the agency’s wide range of services. While trying to navigate the VA and its benefits, there are a number of resources veterans can tap into for help. Veterans Service Officers, who are employed by counties and tribes in South Dakota, are but one group of individuals committed to providing information, assistance, counseling and referrals to veterans to help them navigate the VA and address a wide array of issues unique to our vets.
Veterans Service Officers, or VSOs, often play a necessary and crucial role in improving the lives of South Dakota veterans and their families. These VSOs are trained by the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs (SDDVA) to provide assistance to veterans, dependents and survivors. Their expertise and dedication to VA issues has improved the lives of countless South Dakota veterans throughout the years.
I recently had an opportunity to meet with a group of VSOs and staff from the SDDVA at a gathering in Pierre. Many VSOs share my frustrations with the problems plaguing the VA that are preventing our veterans from receiving the timely, quality care they have been promised. Yet every day, our VSOs work tirelessly to push through the VA red tape and make certain that South Dakota veterans receive the care they deserve.
In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has rightly earned a reputation of poor service and poor use of taxpayer dollars. While there are many great physicians and nurses at the VA caring for our veterans, I have heard too many firsthand accounts of mismanagement during committee hearings and through the many calls to my office from South Dakotans struggling to work with VA bureaucrats. Given the many challenges with the VA, advocating for our veterans at the local level is more important than ever.
Our veterans and their families make incredible sacrifices to defend our country and keep us safe. County and tribal VSOs and the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs have a direct and positive impact in making certain they are properly cared for when their mission is complete. I’m very proud of the work our VSOs do to assist and guide our nation’s heroes. For more information about VSOs or to find your local officer for assistance, you can call the SDDVA at (605) 773-3269 or visit www.vetaffairs. sd.gov
I will continue my work on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to hold the VA fully accountable to these selfless and brave men and women across the country. Nevertheless, I remain grateful to organizations and individuals – especially South Dakota Veterans Service Officers – who work quietly and tirelessly every day on behalf of our vets.
By Senator Mike Rounds