Member Spotlight - March


NACVSO Member Monthly Spotlight

Name: Cathy Crane

County/State: Monroe County, Florida

Location: Key West

How long? 6 years as the Director

Branch of military and YEAR JOINED-YEAR SEPARATED (if applicable): US Army 1995-2006

How did you become a Veteran Service Officer

After separating from the military, I found myself deeply involved in various service organizations in the Florida Keys. One of my significant engagements was with the Key West Military Affairs Committee, where I got to foster relationships with both the military, veteran, and civilian populations in the community. When I learned about a vacancy for a Veteran Service Officer (VSO), I saw it as an incredible opportunity to continue pursuing my passion for serving veterans while also advocating for their needs. The Florida Keys boast a sizable veteran and military community, and I recognized the potential to make a meaningful impact by supporting them. One notable initiative is our transportation services for veterans, with over 1,000 riders benefiting annually with rides throughout the 120-mile-long island chain to the Miami VA Health Care System.

What do you enjoy most about being a veteran service officer? 

There is a special bond that forms between those who have served and those offering them support; a unique connection through shared experiences, and it's immensely fulfilling to provide veterans with the resources they need to be successful in civilian life. Being able to facilitate this connection and witness the positive impact it has on individuals is truly rewarding.

How, if at all, has being a CVSO changed how you view military service? 

Being a CVSO has definitely influenced my perspective on military service, especially being a veteran in a military community. Serving my fellow veterans has allowed me to gain different perspectives on the uniqueness of service, shaped by the diverse experiences and backgrounds of those I assist. Witnessing the resilience and strength of our veterans on a daily basis reinforces my admiration for their commitment and sacrifices. My primary goal as a CVSO is to ensure that veterans receive the benefits and support they deserve, further deepening my appreciation for their service.

How, if at all, has being a CVSO changed your view of VA for the better? 

Being a CVSO has reinforced my positive view of the VA by allowing me to witness firsthand the complexities of cases and the varying degrees of treatment provided to patients. Effective communication and collaboration are crucial in navigating the VA system successfully. By staying well-informed and building strong relationships with VA staff, I am ensuring the best possible outcomes for veterans. Despite some negative perceptions that others may have, my experience has shown me the value of building bridges between veterans and the VA system to facilitate access to the care and benefits they deserve. Here in the Florida Keys, we have 42 bridges connecting the islands  so I think the metaphor extends easily to our work with veterans and VA.

Without divulging any personal information, can you discuss one of your most memorable claim(s)? 

This is a challenging question because every veteran is unique; no two veterans are alike and they all have their own story to tell. One memorable claim I've handled involved a surviving spouse who came to our office to file for burial benefits for her pilot husband. He had passed away due to a non-service injury, and initially, were looking toward filing for a non-service-connected burial claim. However, upon reviewing his death certificate, I noticed a secondary condition related to Agent Orange that he was not service-connected for. This information came as a surprise to his spouse, who was unaware that he had even been diagnosed with that condition.

After discussing the situation with her, we decided to pursue Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). The biggest challenge came when the VA did not recognize the presumption for Agent Orange exposure in his case. To overcome this obstacle, we meticulously combed through hundreds of pages of military records and his own hand-written flight logs. Eventually, we found a single line in his flight logbook that he had landed in Vietnam.

This discovery was a breakthrough. With only a single line in his flight log, we were able to establish his exposure to Agent Orange during his service. As a result, his spouse was granted DIC and other benefits that followed. It opened up a world of support and recognition that she had not known existed, and knowing that I had helped facilitate that in her life was truly humbling.

What would you want people to understand about CVSO’s or what misunderstanding would you like to see corrected about CVSO’s?

One crucial aspect to understand about CVSOs is that they are employed by local government agencies and their role is to advocate for veterans and their families. They serve as liaisons between them and the various county, state, and federal benefits earned through service. However, it's important to note that without a strong relationship with the VA, CVSOs will likely face challenges in assisting veterans as effectively as possible. Our job is to have the best outcome possible for the veteran or family member, so collaboration and education is crucial.

If you had one request for your legislators to impact the lives of veterans or CVSO’s, what do you believe would be most beneficial to request?

One major request for legislators would be to support and pass the Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act (CVSO Act.) This legislation would allocate grants to areas facing critical shortages of veteran services. These are areas with high veteran suicide rates and issues related to access to care. I do not think it is unreasonable to observe a potential correlation there. By providing funding to establish or strengthen VSOs in these underserved communities, the CVSO Act would ensure that veterans have the necessary support and advocacy. Bringing funding back to localities through this act would be a significant step forward in fulfilling our commitment.

Anything else you would like to add or let others know about CVSO’s?

CVSOs are professionals who are not only highly educated but also incredibly effective in their roles. They serve as an essential component of support for veterans and their families, helping them navigate the complexities of accessing benefits and resources. Their dedication and expertise are instrumental in ensuring that veterans have the necessary assistance to succeed in life beyond their service. CVSOs are not just administrators; they are advocates, allies, and champions for veterans' well-being and success.