During World War II, recognizing the need for veterans’ assistance in the state, Governor M. Q. Sharpe called a special session of the State Legislature on July 10, 1944, to establish the South Dakota State Veterans Department and the Veterans Commission. Prior to this time, there existed what was described as a ‘mere gesture’ towards veterans’ assistance. This gesture was in the form of a single contact officer whose total reimbursement was $2,500 per year for salary and all expenses. The position of Contact Officer is believed to have existed from about 1923 until the establishment of the Department in 1944.
The legislation establishing the Veterans Department and the Commission included authority for counties to employ County Veterans Service Officers (CVSO). The law, however, did not include any requirements as to salary, term of office, or standards of performance. Many of the original CVSO’s were individuals who had served voluntarily as Post Service Officers for various veterans organizations and, while they were dedicated in their efforts, meager salaries provided little incentive toward improvement. Through the years new legislation implemented the following changes:
- requirement that each county must employ, or join with another county in employing, a CVSO;
- supplemental salary assistance from the state for counties who maintain certain salary and service standards,
- authorization for the tribes to hire their own Tribal Veterans Service Officer (TVSO).
Legislation enacted in 1973 renamed the former Veterans Department to the Division of Veterans Affairs and placed it within the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs. In 2011, by Executive Order, Governor Dennis Daugaard created a separate Department of Veterans Affairs. Areas of service within our Department include: the Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home in Hot Springs, the claims office in Sioux Falls, and the field staff and education staff in Pierre.
The mission of the Department is to ensure that all veterans, and their eligible family members, understand and receive all the benefits, support, care and recognition that were earned through the veteran’s service to our nation, by administering all current programs and meeting their needs in the future.
The Field Staff is charged with training and assisting the network of County & Tribal Service Officers in veteran’s benefits and the origination and development of well-grounded claims for submission to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The Claims Office does the hands-on processing and representation of the claims at the Regional Office in Sioux Falls. The Education Representatives are responsible for the approval and supervision of programs under the G.I. Bill. Our Veterans Home provides person-centered care designed and delivered according to the individual needs of each resident. We operate 24/7 facilities that provide a combination of skilled nursing care, special care units for dementia and Alzheimer's, domiciliary care, rehabilitation services, recreational therapy, and work therapy programs.
Currently, South Dakota has 56 County VSO’s serving the 66 counties in South Dakota and we have six Tribal VSOs. Since the original legislation in 1944 our states’ network of County & Tribal Veterans Service Officers and SDDVA personnel have assisted thousands of our veterans and their family members with receiving the benefits that were earned through service to our country, and our job is nowhere near done. World events over the last several years have led to a whole new generation of veterans who will need our assistance for years to come. These young men and women were raised in a much faster paced and technologically advanced environment than their fathers and grandfathers from previous wars and their needs and expectations are much different from those who served before them. Providing the professional level of service they will expect, well into the 21st century, is a challenge that our entire network must accept and be prepared for.