From February through April, several public hearings were held on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (ODVA) agency budget, Senate Bill 5538. After public testimony and advocacy efforts for programs critical to veterans, the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development passed the ODVA budget at its May 30 meeting.
For the 2019-21, ODVA’s budget is poised to include $10,275,406 million of general funds (a 19.9% increase from the current biennium) and $19,150,462 of lottery funds (a 24.3% increase from the current biennium). Some key programs and investments that are contained in this budget include:
- Addition of three positions to allow ODVA to serve as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs State Approving Agency for veterans’ education programs;
- Funding to support Tribal Veteran Representative programs and partnerships;
- Renewal of funding for the Campus Veteran Grant Program;
- Additional funding supporting the National Service Organizations to leverage and bring additional funding; and
- Creation of a new Veterans Health Care Transportation Grant Program- expanding on existing federally funded Highly Rural Transportation Grants.
Importantly, this budget also provides a small increase of funds for County Veteran Service Officers (CVSOs) by allocating a combination of general and lottery funds totaling $9,040,692 of pass through dollars for counties. This amount represents a 4% increase from the 2019-21 budget. In the 2017 Session, the Legislature had doubled the state share of funding for CVSOs from $4.35 million to $8.7 million. CVSOs are the boots on the ground who help veterans navigate through complex processes and systems to receive the benefits they have earned and deserve, including the GI bill, vocational training, healthcare, disability payments, and low income pensions.
Representative David Gomberg (D-Central Coast) commented, “I also wanted to make the point that not all of the money that we are allocating to veterans in Oregon is being allocated through this department.” Legislative Fiscal Office staff clarified other agencies see portions of lottery funds allocations for key programs and services that benefit veterans, including $2.5 million for the Oregon Health Authority (veterans behavioral health); $500,000 for the Criminal Justice Commission (veterans treatment courts).
HB 5538 now moves to the Full Ways and Means Committee, before it will move onto the House and Senate floors.
Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate