California aims to expand outreach to veterans

State officials in cash-strapped California are trying to find the money to locate hundreds of thousands of military veterans who could be missing out on benefits.

The California Department of Veterans Affairs currently has contact information for only about 20,000 of the state's 2 million veterans. Locating the others and connecting them with veterans benefits could bring hundreds of millions in new federal funds annually to help bolster the economy.

But even supporters concede the outreach could intensify growing strain on county veterans service officers, called CVSOs.

Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, an El Dorado Hills Democrat who is pushing the outreach effort, said the state has an obligation to assist those who have helped protect the nation.

"It's the least we can do – they've sacrificed, their families have sacrificed," she said.

A key problem is that many veterans of Vietnam, Korea or World War II are not aware of eligibility rules for benefits – and California does not track their addresses to contact them, according to Huber.

Antiquated record keeping in decades past is one cause of the problem. Others range from lack of a formal process for tracking address changes to a personal decision by some veterans to sever ties with agencies, officials say.

Richard Melendez, 59, who served in the Vietnam War and now commands Sacramento's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 67, said he suspects that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but was reluctant to request help.

"I didn't want to seek it because I didn't want to admit I needed it," Melendez said.

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