DR. LINDA SPOONSTER SCHWARTZ Major, USAF (Ret.), Commissioner
Charles Williams, HMCM (SS), USN (Ret.), Chief of Staff
Established - 1986
Central Office - 287 West Street, Rocky Hill, CT 06067
Number of Full-Time Employees - 269
Recurring Operating Expenses - 2004-05 - $31,445,890
Revenues Generated for State General Fund 2004-05 - $17,338,419
Connecticut has the distinction of being the first State in the Nation to offer shelter and support for soldiers of war, their widows and orphans. This tradition harkens back to1863 when Mr. Benjamin Fitch, a wealthy Connecticut businessman, promised soldiers recruited for Connecticut Regiments serving in the Civil War that he would care for them should they be injured during their military service and care for the families of soldiers killed in the war. This promise led to the establishment of the Fitch Home for Veterans in Darien, which was incorporated by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1864. With each succeeding period of war, new generations of veterans presented unique needs and hardships, which required the development of a comprehensive system of health care, social and rehabilitative services. In order to better serve these and future generations of veterans, the Connecticut General Assembly created the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in 1987. The mission of the Department is “serving those who served” by assessing the problems of veterans as they emerge and developing resources which address these needs. The Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs is charged by Statute with furnishing information, counsel and assistance regarding provisions of federal, state and local laws affording financial rights, privileges and benefits to Connecticut residents who are and have been members of the Armed Forces of the United States.
Organization: The Commissioner is appointed by the Governor and is responsible for the administration of the Department. The Commissioner is specifically tasked with assisting veterans, their spouses, eligible dependents and family members in the preparation, presentation, proof and establishment of such claims, privileges, rights and other benefits accruing to them under federal, state and local laws, disseminating information and assisting eligible individuals to access these services and programs which include but are not limited to: educational, training, employment and reemployment programs; health care and rehabilitation programs; housing services, home loans, and burial benefits. The Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs also oversees 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 General Statutes Chapters 54 and 506.
Within the Department there are four distinct organizational offices:
Office of the Commissioner: The Office of the Commissioner is tasked with administrative authority for the Department; outreach to veterans and community agencies; liaisons with legislature, statutory and legislative authorities and veteran service organizations; assessment of the efficiency of programs and evaluation and development of new iniatives to better serve the veterans of Connecticut.
Office of Advocacy and Assistance: The Office of Advocacy and Assistance (OA&A) is responsible for assisting veterans and their families in accessing benefits and entitlements. Veterans Service Officers, accredited by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, assist veterans and their families with documentation and filing of claims for disability and/or compensation. We have staff offices located in each of the five Congressional Districts (Bridgeport, Waterbury, West Haven, Newington and Norwich). Additional coverage throughout the state is provided on a rotating basis at 11 satellite office locations. Veterans Service Officers also conduct interviews in the nursing homes or hospitals throughout the state to determine the number of veterans admitted and ascertain which benefits these veterans are currently receiving and/or entitled to receive. These offices literally served hundreds of veterans seeking assistance and made it more convenient for them to visit, rather than traveling a long distance to the nearest District Office.
Connecticut Veterans’ Home at Rocky Hill: provides direct care to veterans in need of rehabilitative
services, care for chronic disease, substance abuse treatment, respite and hospice care. The healthcare
facility is licensed by the state Department of Public Health Services for 183 chronic disease beds. 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, cardiopulmonary, pharmacy and social work.
The programs in the healthcare facility include: general medical care, Alzheimer’s and related dementia, hospice care, pain-management, respite care, long-term and substance abuse. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs Healthcare Facility offers a progressive, continuum of healthcare, social and rehabilitative services dedicated to excellence. This program has adopted a rehabilitative model of care based on a definition developed by the noted Connecticut nurse theorist, Virginia A. Henderson: “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.” Professional services provided by staff are augmented by community specialists, as well as, networking with Federal VA and major area hospitals when appropriate.
Residential and Rehabilitative Services
The Residential and Rehabilitative Services Program features the Veterans’ Improvement Program (VIP) and Veterans Recovery Program (VRC). A unique feature of the Home is our 488 bed residential program for low income and homeless veterans. In addition to fulfilling basic human needs of clothing, food and shelter, veterans have access to Social and Vocational Counselors and Case Managers, who specifically tailor a program of educational and employment opportunities. This residential program provides veterans with a continuum of rehabilitation designed to ultimately, return them 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, patient work program, an interagency work experience program, vocational testing and counseling services, social work services, transitional living program, an alternative living program, and various educational programs. The average daily census for 2004/2005 was 380 veterans.
The Veterans Recovery Center is an 80-bed substance abuse recovery program which has a residential component. Veterans who are serious about their recovery from drug and/or alcohol addictions receive a concentrated program of treatment, work opportunities and community service. This program is staffed by a Clinical Psychologist and Substance Abuse Counselors. At this time the clinical portion of the program is 6 months with additional residential support for up to 6 months.
Connecticut State Cemetery System: The Connecticut State Cemetery System consists of three state cemeteries: Col. Raymond Gates Cemetery located in Rocky Hill, Connecticut State Veterans’ Cemetery located in Middletown, and Spring Grove Cemetery located in Darien, which was closed for internment in 1964. From July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005, no burial allowances were paid. Installation costs for federal headstones for 3,700 veterans were $249,970. The state Veterans’ Cemetery in Middletown was completed in the fall of 1985. From December 2, 1985, through June 30, 2005, there have been 6,905 interments.
The Office of Advocacy and Assistance (OA&A) provides advice, assistance and formal representation to the state’s 310,000 veterans, as well as the 7,350 presently deployed Connecticut residents in military service and their dependents in obtaining comprehensive rights, benefits and privileges to which they may be entitled under law. This year OA&A serviced 2,000 walk-in veterans and/or dependents, answered over 3,000 telephone inquiries; acquired 1,187 new clients and filed 1,750 new claims. Special outreach included 88 community visits, 50 benefit fairs, seminars, and 8 briefings for CT Guard and Reserve Units returning from Iraq. This resulted in over $40,200,000 in new income and benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families.
Since its inception, the OA&A unit has brought more than $768,900,000 into the state in the form of new or increased federal veterans’ benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families. In fiscal year 04/05, the Office of Advocacy and Assistance reviewed the eligibility status of an additional 1,680 veterans and/or dependents of veterans in the state’s 333 nursing homes. These benefits have provided a direct savings to the state where the clients are Medicaid recipients and in other cases served 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.
The Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs implemented a comprehensive, wide-ranging effort to upgrade safety and security problems, 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. With the assistance of the Department of Information Technology, we developed a new interactive website, www.ct.gov/ctva, which has become a center for all veteran information in the state.
The Department has enhanced its efforts to maximize revenues with new programs and initiatives including the healthcare facility’s participation in the Medicaid Recovery Program. This effort has contributed an additional $93,142,928.36 in new net state revenue in the last ten fiscal years ending June 2005. The agency’s total net revenues for FY 04/05 were approximately $20,014,006. 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.
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, 2004, through June 30, 2005. Cash donations, totaling more than $56,080.43 funded designated projects and regularly scheduled entertainment and activities.
Completed Projects include: replacement of all bathroom and patient room sinks and all cubicle curtains to meet fire code standards in the healthcare facility. Ongoing projects include: replacement of a 3-way high voltage switch gear; replacement of the elevator cylinder in the West Domicile; replacement and repair of all fire doors on the complex; and air conditioning of residential domicile areas.
As part of the Governor’s Proclamation declaring 2005 “The Year of the Veteran”, the Department has initiated several new programs. A complete set of new flags, including all service flags for the individual military components were presented by veterans to the Legislature in a ceremony on June 14, 2005 (Flag Day). These are on permanent display in the Legislative Office Building. In concert with Executive Order No. 5, the Commissioner has been active in assisting with the development and implementation of the criteria for the CT Veterans’ Hall of Fame to be inaugurated in November 2005. CT Cares Stand Down 2005, which is a state-wide outreach to homeless and needy veterans, is in the planning phase for September 2005. In conjunction with the CT National Guard a special outreach (Homecoming 2005) to the families of deployed military and newly returned veterans is also slated for October 2005.
During the 2004/2005 Fiscal Year an aggressive program was instituted to identify excess property and equipment and dispose of them in accordance with Department of Administrative Services’ policy. Additionally, monitoring of the budget resulted in identification of many cost reducing activities such as, use of generic drugs, reduction in the utilization of outside professional services and staffing over time payments. We instituted an Assisted Living project to support veterans with levels of independence and conservation of professional staff time. All contracts were reviewed and amended to be more consistent with actual needs of veterans at Rocky Hill.
The Department works with the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs, VA CT Healthcare System, 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. Rather than continue with the $2.2 million contract with the UCONN Health Systems, we have successfully transferred two-thirds of the veteran population health care to the Federal VA at a savings of approximately $6.8 million.
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. During fiscal year ending June 30, 2005, planning continued for major Life Safety renovations to our domiciles and the construction of a 125-bed nursing facility. The Department of Public Works assisted our agency with the proper process to carry out those two projects. We have engaged the services of Moser, Pilon, Nelson Architects of Wethersfield for the design of the new facility. Thirty-five percent plans were submitted in accordance with federal requirements by July 15, 2005. The federal VA will provide the agency with a total of $20,299,500 which is two-thirds of the cost of this project.
After a major water main break on October 3, 2003, plans were made to study the feasibility and estimated cost to upgrade the facility’s entire water distribution system. The federal VA will provide the agency with $2,990,000, which is two-thirds of the project. Amenta/Emma Architects, PC of Hartford are lead architect for this project.
Various projects to upgrade the existing facilities, include: Completion of the Master Plan in August 2005; renovation of the Alzheimer’s Unit by Barkin Associates, which is now at 100% construction documents phase; campus-wide utility survey due to be completed August 2005; overhaul of elevators by Clough, Harbour & Associates is in the design phase with a Spring 2006 completion.
The Department continuously reviews all programs. Specific items of review include goals achievement, staffing requirements, equipment needs and resource utilization. This year the Commissioner has tasked each manager to prioritize existing programs, assess specific needs and resources and insure the most economical utilization of available resources. Managers will also monitor their own budget allocations on a monthly basis and make adjustments to conform to the Department’s budgetary allocations.
Veterans requesting care from the Department must be residents of the State of Connecticut at the time of application. A veteran must have been discharged with other than a dishonorable discharge and be a current resident of the State of Connecticut. Application for admission may be requested in advance. Fact sheets detailing admission requirements are available along with a general information booklet, or consult our website at www.ct.gov/ctva.