Elizabeth Perez joined CalVet in January, taking the helm of our Minority and Underrepresented Veterans Division. We recently asked her about her new role.
What are your top priorities?
One of my immediate priorities was to help immigrant veterans become naturalized citizens. For decades, immigrants have served in the U.S. military. My father was one of them. They are promised a path to citizenship, but many fail to pursue it while on active duty and they face the risk of being deported if they run afoul of the law after – and sometimes because of — their service. Addressing this issue is long overdue.
In March, we launched Veterans Pathway to Citizenship, a series of eight workshops to provide veterans and their family members with legal assistance in obtaining citizenship. CalVet facilitates the workshops, and legal services are provided by non-profit organizations approved by the California Department of Social Services. Upcoming workshops are planned for May 12 in Fresno, June 2 in Oxnard, June 23 in Riverside, July 14 in San Francisco, and July 28 in Sacramento.
Another priority where I’ve been able to take action thus far is addressing the special needs of Native American and rural veterans, particularly accounting for their unique location challenges. Toward that end, we created a series of workshops focused on connecting Native American and rural veterans with on-site veteran services and claims processing through the Native Americans & Rural Veterans Claims & Benefits Program.
The first workshops were held in March at Valley Center and at Owens Valley TNAF in Fresno County. We have teamed with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Services (IHS) to expand on claims processing services by having a local County Veteran Service Officer (CVSO) continue to process claims at an IHS location. CalVet also will conduct needs assessments and initiate regularly scheduled CVSO site visits. In late 2018, we will coordinate the first-ever Tribal Veteran Service Representative (TVSR) training program to ensure that tribes have dedicated representatives.
We are also coordinating with the VA to have Telehealth available at selected Indian Health Clinics throughout the state with high populations of Native veterans. Native American veterans and their dependents will be able to receive VA Telehealth services at selected Indian Health Clinics.
In May, we start our first series of underrepresented and Native American veteran entrepreneurship workshops. The first workshop, hosted by the Tule River Tribe of California, will be May 17 at the Eagle Mountain Casino in Porterville. A second workshop, hosted by the SBA Fresno District Office, is scheduled for June 7 in downtown Fresno.
What do you want people to know about minority and underrepresented veterans?
Being a part of the underrepresented and minority community, I have seen a lot of outreach to veterans in this population, but without solid outcomes. I am committed to ensuring that we actively identify and address any challenges in serving ALL veterans, remove the barriers that prevent underrepresented veterans from accessing their benefits, and develop a different kind of relationship with our minority and underrepresented veterans.
It is important to recognize that the face of the military and veteran communities has become increasingly diverse. My vision is to foster inclusion with innovative ideas, to facilitate true meaningful assistance, and to produce tangible results. In the process, we can change the experience of our veterans.
A Navy veteran, Perez served as an aviation logistics specialist from 1997 to 2005. She was a 2013 White House Veteran Champion of Change and is a member of the Disabled Veterans Business Alliance of California – San Diego Chapter Board, American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California – San Diego Chapter, American Legion Post 365, and the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.