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State Cuts Affect Veterans’ Access To Federal Benefits

Audio

Aired 1/18/11

California Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to eliminate funding for a program his predecessor created last year: the “Welcome Home” program to help new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The money at stake in the state budget is about $10 million. But according to veterans’ advocates, the implications for individual veterans and the local economy is much greater.

California Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to eliminate funding for a program his predecessor created last year: the “Welcome Home” program to help new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The money at stake in the state budget is about $10 million. But according to veterans’ advocates, the implications for individual veterans and the local economy is much greater. That's because the program is focused on helping vets get federal benefits.

JP Tremblay is with California’s Department of Veterans Affairs. He said it’s a challenge to connect veterans with the federal benefits they are entitled to, partly because it’s a lot of paperwork and partly because the vets often don’t know they are eligible.

For example, he said, a lot of vets come back and they figure that because they left the service voluntarily, they’re not really unemployed. But the federal government will reimburse unemployment benefits paid to veterans as they transition back into the workforce.

“There’s federal benefits out there on the table,” Tremblay said. “We need to make sure that the veterans are aware of them.”

There are many new benefits, such as the new GI Bill, which offers generous incentives for veterans and their families to go to college. And older veterans find they develop health conditions later in life for which they can get federal help, Tremblay added.

Pete Conaty, a lobbyist for veterans’ affairs, estimates $3.5 billion a year in federal money flows into California in the form of veterans’ benefits, and those are dollars that go back into the economy as families spend them.

He said every dollar state and local government spends on helping veterans get their benefits leverages about $100 in federal money. California has 2.1 million veterans and almost every county has a veterans-service office.

Pete Splitgerber, head of San Diego County’s Veterans Services Office, said San Diego has the largest population of new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan in the United States: about 30,000. The region is home to a little more than 240,000 veterans altogether, second only to Los Angeles. The main focus of the county office is to help veterans get their federal benefits.

“If you count the veterans and their families,” Splitgerber said, “and we work with some of the transitioning active duty and their families too – together, those comprise about 900,000 people, which is just short of 30 percent of the population of San Diego County.”

Splitgerber said the “Welcome Home” program announced last year quadrupled the money the state was spending to help counties work with vets.

“There was a huge flood of optimism when the budget went through last year,” Splitgerber said, “now all of a sudden it’s no longer there.”

Splitgerber said the state funding makes up about 25 percent of the funding for his department, and it is unclear if the county will pick up the slack if the state budget cuts are approved.

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