Investigative

I-Team investigates Valley veterans service officer issue

I-Team looks into valley veterans...

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - For retired Army Staff Sergeant Jeff Horton, his bloodline runs red, white and blue. 

"I did it because it's a lineage thing," Horton said. "My brother decided to join the Marine Corps, (and) I decided to join the Army. When I joined, I wound up going straight to Kosovo, Iraq, Kosovo again and Iraq again." 
    
The fourth-generation military service member wasn't done serving when coming off the battlefield, eventually becoming the Post Commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Joseph L. Stone Post 1534 in Desert Hot Springs. 

"I decided since I couldn't (do) anything more for my country on the battlefield, I can do for veterans being a part of the VFW." 
    
He said one issue has come to the forefront of his battle on the homefront revolving around veterans service officers. 

"We take all of the actual paperwork and complete that for them," Senior Veterans Representative Ralph Duarte said. "We also advocate for them within the district. We are members of many committees throughout the fourth district. We work closely with the Congressman, closely with the Assemblymen, on any veterans-related issues."   
    
Here's the breakdown of the veteran population in the Coachella Valley, according to Riverside County Veterans Demographics

4,445 - Palm Springs
5,424 - Unicorporated Area District 4 (near Palm Springs) 
1,350 - Desert Hot Springs
2,322 - Cathedral City
2,583 - Rancho Mirage
5,040 - Palm Desert
679 - Indian Wells
3,035 - La Quinta
3,667 - Indio
309 - Coachella
5,424 - Unincorpated Area District 4 (East Valley) 
___________________________________________________

34,278 total veterans

Currently within in Riverside County, there are eight veterans service officers, each Duarte said typically serving about 12,000 veterans. 
    
Two of them based in the valley.   
    
Local veteran Armando Lozano said he would like to see that number go up. 

"There's a lot of veterans out there that don't even know they have any kind of benefts," Lozano said.  
    
Horton said that number is not enough, with a growing population and local veterans waiting years for claims to be addressed. 

"I had five suicide veterans that we actually had to take out to Loma Linda to admit them into the psychiatric ward, because they are having health issues," Horton said. "They're having issues of trying to get their claims done. They're having issues being able to get out there." 

Duarte said they're addressing the issue of veteran service officers, by adding a third representative at the Indio office to help valley veterans. 

"We recognized that, in this area, there was a strong need for another representative," Duarte said. "We've had some allocation in our budget. By having that additional representative, we'll be able to be open five days a week. We're currently only open four. We'll also be able to participate in possibly home visits, hospital visits and things of that nature."
    
Duarte said the help will fight for those here at home. 

"We're a very lean department, but by incorporating another veteran representative in this area, I think it will help substantially," Duarte said.  
    
But Horton hopes to see more come over time, helping those who've fought for their country. 

"We're tired of fighting," Horton said. "Why should we fight for something that we're well-deserved to have." 

Duarte said their new representative will be starting sometime before Thanksgiving.
    
Riverside County will be adding another representative by the end of the year, bringing them up to full staff at 10 countywide. 
 


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