In 2019, the Legislature passed 2SHB 1448 (RCW 43.60A.230), sponsored by Representative Maycumber, which created the Veterans Service Officer (VSO) program with the purpose of providing funding to underserved counties. This program is subject to appropriation, and since its passage, four counties have been provided funding to accomplish this purpose. These four counties provide services for eight counties altogether with the provision of these funds:
- Clallam County – also serves Jefferson County;
- Stevens County – also serves Pend Oreille, Ferry, and Lincoln Counties;
- Island County; and
- Walla Walla County.
This session, Senator Gildon introduced SSB 5358, which creates a grant program for counties to develop or expand VSO programs with the stated goal of increasing and enhancing state funding for VSO programs to ensure they are robust and widely available throughout the state.
However, the House budget provides funding specifically only for Island and Walla Walla county’s VSOs and does not provide funding for Clallam and Stevens counties. This means that in the House proposal, six counties will lose funding and access to a VSO. Whereas in the Senate budget, there is no funding provided for the four listed counties, meaning eight counties would lose funding and access to VSOs under their proposal.
The Senate does, however, fund SSB 5358. The funding provided for this purpose would only be sufficient to fund these four original counties and would not be enough to either increase or enhance additional VSOs across the state.
There are 13 counties that currently do not have access to VSOs. If the Legislature continued its funding of these four counties AND provided additional funding for SSB 5358 to expand these services, then additional counties would have the opportunity to provide VSO services to their communities. Counties currently without VSOs include:
- Grays Harbor;
- San Juan;
- Wahkiakum; and
If you represent any of these 13 counties, please reach out to your legislators to let them know how beneficial this expanded funding under 5358 would be for your county, and that they should properly fund this program expansion IN ADDITION to the previously allotted funds in the operating budget.
WSAC, Policy Director