Researched and Written by Know A Vet?
We’ve talked with hundreds of Veterans and family members at events and asked if they had gone to their VSO. Almost universally the response was that they had not seen any of the VSO shows. People had not heard of a VSO and thought we were talking about USO shows for the troops in theater.
USO and VSO are separate entities. One serves the U.S. Armed Forces active duty military community. The other serves the Veteran community.
USO began in 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt had concerns over keeping deployed troop morale high. Six service organizations united to form USO – United Service Organizations. Through recreation clubs run by volunteers state side and abroad, USO supplied help like:
- social services
- personal help with tasks like mending uniforms and writing letters
It also supplied entertainment by well-known performers like comedian Bob Hope.
USO continues serving service members and their families, from enlistment to transitioning out. Its mission is to strengthen “America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.” It does this through USO Centers, special programs, virtual events, and various modes of entertainment.
Though USO works closely with the Department of Defense (DOD), it is not part of the government. It is an independent, nonprofit organization funded through charitable donations.
Watch this video to learn more about USO.
VSO refers to Veterans Service Organization and to Veterans Service Officer. Some Veterans Service Organizations are known as Veterans Service Offices. All help Veterans, their families, and survivors.
Veterans Service Officer
A Veterans Service Officer (VSO) is an accredited Veterans representative working for a recognized Veterans Service Organization (VSO). It is someone recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help Veterans and their families with VA benefit claims. VSOs undergo training and testing on their knowledge of VA regulations.
VSOs help Veterans and their families figure out all the benefits they have earned through military service (regardless of where or when) and to apply for those benefits. They build a case supporting the benefits claims. They may be able to help obtain missing records. Their training makes VSOs aware of the catch phrases VA looks for to approve (or deny) a benefits claim.
VSOs are also familiar with non-VA benefits that may be available to Veterans from federal, state, local, and community agencies.
Veterans Service Officers do not work for VA. They advocate for Veterans. They do not charge fees for their services.
Many accredited representatives work for nongovernmental, state, county, or tribal Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs).
Learn how VSOs – Veterans Service Officers – help Veterans and their families in this video:
Veterans Service Organization
A Veterans Service Organization (VSO) serves Veterans, servicemembers, dependents, and survivors. Per the Congressional Research Service, VSOs may fall into one or more of these categories:
- congressionally chartered organizations
- organizations recognized by VA
- organizations recognized by VA to prepare, present, and prosecute claims
- national organizations
- state, county, or tribal governmental organizations
- regional or local organizations
- nonprofit organizations
VSOs provide services in various ways, like:
- running programs that help veterans in their communities (e.g., job fairs)
- holding events to raise money for specific Veterans (e.g., homeless veterans)
- providing access to accredited Veterans Service Officers who can help Veterans and their families apply for VA benefits. Not all VSOs provide access to Veterans Service Officers.
Accredited Veterans Service Officers who work for recognized VSOs cannot charge or collect any type of fee.
(VA also accredits attorneys and agents who are not connected with VSOs. They may charge fees in certain circumstances only. Unaccredited individuals violate Federal law if they present themselves as authorized to handle VA benefit claims.)
To locate a state or county Veterans Service Organization (Office), see our Veteran Service Offices (VSOs) – Your Best First Step page.
To locate other Veterans Service Organizations, see our Other VSOs page.
Know A Vet recommends going back to a VSO with every life change. Life changes include marriage, having a child, deciding to get a better job, and retirement. There are constant changes to benefits for every situation and stage of life. Veterans Service Officers keep updated on changes. They are ready to talk with you so you and your family get everything you have earned through the sacrifice of your service.
Brandner, Eric. (2015, October 12). Millions of Resourceful USO Volunteers Kept Morale High During World War II. USO. https://www.uso.org/stories/34-a-different-way-of-serving
Congressional Research Service. (2020, June 25). Veterans Accredited Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions. CRSReports. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46428/4
Congressional Research Service. (2021, February 10). Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs): Frequently Asked Question. CRSReports. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46412
Gohn, Sandi. (2021, August 16). Who Is Eligible to Use the USO? 4 FAQs About the Military Nonprofit USO. https://www.uso.org/stories/3145-who-is-eligible-to-use-the-uso-4-faqs-about-the-military-nonprofit
Guina, Ryan. (2020, August 22). Veterans Service Organizations for Benefits Claims Assistance, Career Guidance, and More. The Military Wallet. https://themilitarywallet.com/veterans-service-organizations-benefits-claims/#State_County_Offices_of_Veterans_Affairs_Also_Offer_Great_Support
Library of Congress. (n.d.). Home Away From Home. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/february-04/
National Association of County Veterans Service Officers. (n.d.). Benefits. NACVSO. https://www.nacvso.org/membership/benefits
Office of General Counsel. (n.d.). Accreditation Frequently Asked Questions. VA. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.va.gov/ogc/accred_faqs.asp
Shlotterbeck, Bev. (2015, November 2). A closer look at the role of the county veterans service officer. NACo. https://www.naco.org/articles/closer-look-role-county-veterans-service-officer
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Veterans and Military Service Organizations. VA. https://www.va.gov/vso/VSO-Directory.pdf
Veterans Benefits Administration. (n.d.). Accredited Representatives. VA. Retrieved June 22,2022, from https://benefits.va.gov/vso/index.asp