LINDA S. SCHWARTZ, Commissioner
Charles Williams, Chief of Staff
Established - 1986
Statutory authority- CGS Secs. 27-103 through 27-137
Central office - 287 West Street,
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
Number of full-time employees - 265
Recurring operating expenses - $31,262,866
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs was established in 1986 with the Office of Advocacy and Assistance as its sole program. The Veterans’ Home and Hospital, was incorporated as a program within the department in July 1988. The Veterans’ Home and Hospital, which has been in operation since 1864 and is the oldest state run veteran’s facility in the country. A commissioner was appointed to lead the agency and the department embarked on a new and challenging mission to provide comprehensive health, social and rehabilitative services to veterans of the State of Connecticut. Subsequently, the Veterans’ Home and Hospital program was reorganized into two separate and distinct programs; Veterans’ Hospital Services and Residential and Rehabilitative Services.
The Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs oversees: the collection of information concerning services available to veterans; the determination of the number of veterans who are receiving and are entitled to benefits; the cooperation with service agencies and organizations in furnishing counsel and assistance to veterans; the assistance in the presentation of claims accruing to veterans under federal, state and local laws; the cooperation with all government and private agencies in securing benefits for veterans; the development of an agency-wide long range plan; the review of all appeals and final decisions made by veterans regarding adverse decisions affecting benefits to veterans participating in state programs; the enforcement of all regulations and procedures enacted in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54 (Uniform Administrative Procedure Act).
The Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs has all of the statutory powers and duties formerly vested in the Veterans’ Home and Hospital Commission.
A board of trustees advises and assists the Commissioner on various matters affecting policy and operation of the department.
The Office of the Commissioner, currently comprised of a commissioner, healthcare, rehabilitative services, and fiscal/administrative services, human resources, planning, safety and security, food services, a physical plant, and affirmative action, guides the development of agency policy as well as provides administrative direction and support.
The purpose of the Affirmative Action Program at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is to ensure equality in state government by developing a work force that is truly representative of all segments of our population. The department recognizes the need and pledges continued strong support for affirmative action. Accordingly, the agency will continue its long-standing policy of applying affirmative action criteria to all its personnel actions. The Affirmative Action Office is also responsible for investigating employee as well as patient discrimination complaints.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs Healthcare Facility fulfills its promise to Connecticut’s veterans by offering a progressive, caring continuum of healthcare, social and rehabilitative services dedicated to excellence. The facility has adopted a rehabilitative model based on a definition of care developed by the noted nurse theorist Virginia Henderson (Army School of Nursing): “To assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery or to a peaceful death that they would perform unaided if they had the strength, the will or knowledge. And to do so in such a way as to help them gain independence as rapidly as possible." The administrator, healthcare medical team, nursing department and substance abuse program team provide comprehensive and quality services to improve every aspect of care for each veteran served. In addition to medicine and nursing, specialty areas include dental, physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapy, laboratory, radiology, cardiopulmonary, pharmacy and social work.
The healthcare facility is licensed by the state Department of Public Health Services for 183 chronic disease beds. The programs in the hospital include: general medical care, Alzheimer’s and related dementia, hospice care, pain-management, respite care and long-term substance abuse rehabilitation. Furthermore, primary care clinics and psychiatric services are available in-house for the veterans.
The Residential and Rehabilitative Services Program features the Veterans’ Improvement Program (VIP). This residential program provides veterans with a continuum of rehabilitation designed to, ultimately, return veterans to independent living in the community. Emphasis is directed toward developing an individualized rehabilitative plan which addresses a veteran’s goals. The components of the program include room and board, substance abuse treatment, a patient work program, an interagency work experience program, vocational testing and counseling services, social work services, a transitional living program, an alternative living program, and various educational programs.
The Office of Advocacy and Assistance (OA&A), a unit within the department to aid and benefit veterans, is comprised of a veterans’ service officer supervisor, and either one or two service officers in each of the five congressional district offices. Its mission is to provide advice, assistance and formal representation to the state’s 305,000 veterans and their dependents in obtaining comprehensive rights, benefits and privileges to which they may be entitled under law.
Since its inception, the OA&A unit has brought more than $768.9 million into the state in the form of new or increased federal veterans’ benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families. In fiscal year 03/04, the Office of Advocacy and Assistance completed more than 2,000 applications and reviewed the eligibility status of an additional 100 veterans and/or dependents of veterans in the state’s 336 nursing homes. These benefits have provided a direct savings to the state where the clients are Medicaid recipients and in other cases serve to delay the time when clients may be forced to rely on state funded services.
Since OA&A was first staffed in 1988, ten editions of A Guide to Benefits for Connecticut Veterans have been published and distributed. This guide has been in great demand throughout the state. The last guide was revised in May of 2004.
In addition to the five District Offices that are manned by Veteran Service Offices to assist veterans, eight satellite offices were opened on a monthly or bi-monthly basis during 2003-04 in various regions of the state. These offices literally served hundreds of veterans seeking assistance and made it more convenient for them to visit, rather than travelling a long distance to the nearest District Office.
The Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs has implemented a comprehensive, wide-ranging effort to upgrade safety and security concerns, and to improve the general condition of the Rocky Hill facility. Accordingly, there have been numerous improvements to programs, operations and equipment, and a renewed emphasis has been placed on enforcing existing laws and regulations. State police dogs continue to be used regularly to find contraband, which has resulted in the reduction of drug abuse incidents on the grounds. Announced and unannounced inspections of residents’ rooms are also carried out on a regular basis.
Since the inception of the Veterans Improvement Program in 1991 approximately 652 veterans have returned to independent living, with approximately 336 of those also securing either part-time or full-time employment. Moreover, the department seeks to hire veterans to fill vacancies for classified positions within the agency. Presently, 13 veterans who were former patients are working at the facility.
The Commissioner maintains a toll-free telephone line to aid in constituency service and the dissemination of information to the state’s veterans and their dependents.
The department continues to make numerous improvements in the areas of morale, welfare and recreation. During 2003-2004 contribution(s) of approximately $25,275 were placed into the institutional general welfare fund.
The department has enhanced its efforts to maximize revenues with new programs and initiatives including the hospital’s participation in the Medicaid Recovery Program. This effort has contributed an additional $82,531,986.12 in new net state revenue in the last nine fiscal years ending June 2004. The agency’s total net revenues for FY 03/04 were approximately $19,942,320. These efforts have further enhanced the capability of the department to provide high quality long-term care and rehabilitative services at a low cost to Connecticut taxpayers.
From July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004, no burial allowances were paid. Installation costs for federal headstones for 3,300 veterans were $223,452.
The state Veterans’ Cemetery in Middletown was completed in the fall of 1985. From December 2, 1985, through June 30, 2004, there have been 6,546 interments.
An invaluable contribution was made to the department by volunteers from nearly 280 veterans and service organizations and more than 150 schools and educational institutions. Literally thousands of volunteers contributed more than 25,000 hours in on-site and off-grounds events with veterans in residence from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2004. Cash donations, totaling more than $65,857 funded designated projects and regularly scheduled entertainment and activities.
The department continuously reviews all programs. Specific items of review include goals achievement, staffing requirements, equipment needs and resource utilization.
Each manager is required to prioritize existing programs and assess whether the department has the need and resources to continue the programs. Managers evaluate each program and activity to ensure that it operates in the most economical way possible. Managers report recommendations for improvements and modifications to the Commissioner.
During fiscal year ending June 30, 2004, planning continued for major Life Safety renovations to our domiciles and the construction of a 250-bed nursing facility. The Department of Public Works assisted our agency with the proper process to carry out those two projects. In addition, the General Assembly authorized $4.2 million in state bonding money for the renovation project and $10,830,000 for the new construction. The federal VA has been asked to provide the agency with a total of $27,839,500 or two-thirds of the cost of both projects. The legislature also amended state statutes changing the name of the agency’s Rocky Hill facility from Veterans Home and Hospital to Veterans’ Home, more accurately reflecting the services provided in our healthcare facility.
After a major water main break on October 3,2003, several meetings were held with the Department of Public Works and plans were made to study the feasibility and estimated cost to upgrade the facility’s entire water distribution system. A final decision on the proposed project is expected to be made during next fiscal year.
On June 12, 2004, the agency observed its 140th anniversary with a parade, “Massing of Colors” and other activities to recognize our Veterans’ Home as the first one to be established in the entire nation.
The department works with the Federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Connecticut medical centers and the Office of Policy and Management to ensure that the combined limited resources available to the state’s veterans are utilized in the most efficient manner possible and to the fullest potential benefit of Connecticut’s veterans.
Veterans requesting care from the department must be residents of the State of Connecticut at the time of application. A veteran must have a minimum of 90 days of honorable service in time of war to be eligible, unless separated from service-connected disability rated by the Federal Veterans Administration. Application for admission may be requested in advance. A fact sheet detailing admission requirements is available, along with a general information booklet.
The Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs is committed to continuing cost effective initiatives that will expand the extent and variety of quality services delivered to all Connecticut veterans.