Supervisors want departments to augment efforts to assist vets

RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County Board of Supervisors directed staff to take action to open up employment opportunities and ensure the delivery of benefits to Riverside County’s 130,000-plus military veterans during their Dec. 12 meeting.

Supervisor V. Manuel Perez introduced the “Veterans Improvement Program” during the board’s policy agenda. The move was a collaboration between Perez and Supervisor Chuck Washington, a former Naval aviator, who missed the board meeting due to illness.

“We need to help veterans and their families,” Perez said. “Riverside County is home to so many veterans who have put their lives on the line. Supervisor Washington and I believe this is a great investment.”

Perez said there’s a need for the board to act as one in asking the California Assembly and Senate for a minimum $5.5 million boost in statewide appropriations for the Veteran Service Officers Program, operated by CalVet, which provides assistance to retired and active-duty vets and their families seeking disability and other benefits. At the local level, the program is administered by the county Office of Veterans Affairs.

Current appropriations are less than $3 million – for all 58 counties in the state, according to the supervisors.

Perez and Washington also want a re-evaluation of the county’s Veterans Employment Preference Program, under which vets receive points when applying to work in county government.

The points-based system lacks effectiveness, and a new model is needed to facilitate “veterans moving into the interview and selection process” at a “significantly” faster pace, according to the supervisors’ proposal.

“We need a comprehensive look at how the county attracts honorably discharged vets,” Perez said. “Our current program is a bit antiquated.”

He and Washington further advocated a new “Veterans Internship Program,” or VIP, to “help veterans develop experience that will aid in employment, as well as academic endeavors,” according to their proposal.

Perez called specifically on Department of Human Resources Director Mike Stock, a former serviceman, to take the lead on the preference program expansion and VIP.

“I understand your direction and am happy to do more,” Stock said. “The board has had a policy since 1974 of veterans preference hiring. We’ll see if we can expand that and expand our internship (policy) to better identify veterans.”

According to Perez and Washington, the county’s federal lobbyists need to step up engagement with Congress and the U.S. Veterans Administration to re-establish access to federal and state military records to improve service to vets countywide. Access has been limited since a hack attack two years ago on the federal Office of Personnel Management.

“Anything we can do for our veterans is worthwhile,” outgoing board Chairman John Tavaglione, who served in the U.S. Army, said.

By last count, the county was home to 132,228 veterans, the largest number of whom – 34,951 – resided in Washington’s supervisorial 3rd District.

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