Organization works toward consistency
NEW ULM — This is the 75th year of the Minnesota Association of County Veterans Service Officers, but their plans for the big year were wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But you know how a first convention takes place in the zero year? That mean the MACVSO 75th convention happened last September, in the 74th year of the organization.
“Who would have thought that the next year we would have to cancel our gatherings marking the anniversary?” said MACVSO President Greg Peterson.
Funny enough, the MACVSO bylaws say they must have an annual meeting, and Peterson hopes that can be accomplished online. The bylaws specify voting with paper ballots, so they will have to address that aspect.
The county veteran service officers help veterans, but, as a professional society, MACVSO helps the county veteran service officers. Peterson said the organization is developing a vision, with goals and objectives.
“We want all CVSOs to operate consistently on a core set of standards,” Peterson said.
For example, the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs sends out bronze star flag holders to CVSOs for Memorial Day. Brown County disperses them to each Legion Post, and the Legionnaires decorate the graves. Nicollet County has the Legion members drive to the courthouse in St. Peter, on the eastern edge of the county. That’s about 42 miles at the farthest.
Peterson would like veterans across the state to know that the CVSOs are not under the control of MACVSO. They are not employees of the federal or state VA departments, either. They are employees of their respective counties. If there is a problem with a CVSO falling down on the job, address it first with the CVSO or another one in the same office. If nothing results, contact a county commissioner.
He often explains it by using the sheriff as an example. Sheriffs work for the county, not for the FBI, even though they work with the FBI. They are not the feds. CVSOs are not the VA.
“For complaints, you got to go to the controlling body,” Peterson said. “We are appointed, not hired, on four-year terms.”
The American Legion has a service officer, too, if veterans aren’t finding results with their claim via the CVSO. Jeremy Wolfsteller works for the Legion out of an office at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and often can get direct answers. (612-467-3849)
MACVSO and the MDVA are happy to work with counties on hiring CVSOs, Peterson said, to help county board members choose the best person for the job, people who can do thorough research and tackle challenging situations.
“Even Agent Orange can be broad,” he said.
Peterson has been working for Brown County out of New Ulm for 16 years now, and now and then even he encounters new situations in dealing with the federal VA, usually in the appeals process.
He said appeals are often based on having more evidence. He said he would rather have a high-level conversation with proper documentation versus getting it on paper and having the wrong form and the veteran has gone home. Sometimes, the veteran lives 40 miles away, and in the winter, redoing the claim or appeal can be tough.
“There are a lot of factors that can make rural counties difficult to meet with out customers,” Peterson said. “Generally, they are 55 years or older.”
The younger veterans he encounters are asking about the G.I. Bill or the Minnesota Military Appreciation Fund’s $500 grants to post-9/11 vets.
Seven metro-county CVSOs are utilizing the State Soldiers Assistance Program more frequently than rural counties, on a per-capita basis, Peterson said.
He said he knows all the Vietnam veterans in his county. If something comes out with Agent Orange, he can mail a letter to each one. He mentioned building a database of Navy Blue Water veterans.
“Our goal is 100 percent benefits,” he said. “We make certain these people get every benefit they are entitled to.”