Department of Veterans’ Affairs
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 - 282
Recurring operating expenses - $34,105,549
Federal Reimbursement Recovered for State General Fund 2005-06 - $31,000,000
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.
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 initiatives to better serve the 310,000 Connecticut’s veterans and their families.
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 Veterans’ Affairs, assist veterans and their families with documentation and filing of claims for disability and/or compensation. Staff offices are 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 make it more convenient for them to visit, rather than traveling a long distance to the nearest District Office.
Since its inception, the OA&A unit has brought more than $44.5M into the state in the form of new or increased federal veterans’ benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families. In fiscal year 05/06, the Office of Advocacy and Assistance reviewed the eligibility status of an additional 1,800 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 2005.
Connecticut Veterans’ Home at Rocky Hill-Healthcare Facility
The Healthcare Facility provides long-term healthcare and rehabilitation services to veterans with chronic and disabling medical conditions. The healthcare facility is licensed by the Connecticut Department of Public Health and approved by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs for 160 chronic disease beds. The Healthcare Services Administrator, 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 physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapy, laboratory, cardiopulmonary, dental, pharmacy and social work.
The programs and services provided in the healthcare facility include: general medical care, Alzheimer’s and related dementia care, hospice care, palliative care, long-term care, short-term rehabilitation, respite care, and substance abuse treatment program. 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.
The Healthcare Services Facility also offers a residential Veterans Recovery Program with a capacity to serve 80 veterans and is available to any veteran residing in any of the residential facilities at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that meet the eligibility criteria. Veterans who are serious about their recovery from drug and/or alcohol addictions receive a concentrated program of treatment, work opportunities and community service. A Clinical Psychologist and Substance Abuse Counselors staff this program. The program is three (3) months of intensive substance abuse recovery programs followed by nine (9) months of additional residential support. The Recovery Program also offers the Three Quarter house which has the capacity for 11 veterans. To be considered for residence in the Three Quarter house, the veteran must have successfully completed the full year of recovery and meet other criteria. These veterans are expected to be gainfully employed or in school, anticipating discharge in the community having completed the year in the house, and hold active mentoring roles for veterans entering the VRC program.
Residential and Rehabilitative Services
The Residential and Rehabilitative Services Program features the Veterans’ Improvement Program (VIP). A unique feature of the Home is our residential program for low income and homeless veterans. In addition to fulfilling basic human needs such as 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 2005/06 was 351 veterans.
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, 2005, to June 30, 2006, no burial allowances were paid. Installation costs for federal headstones for 3,700 veterans were $249,995. The state Veterans’ Cemetery in Middletown was completed in the fall of 1985. From December 2, 1985, through June 30, 2006, there have been 7,532 interments.
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, a new interactive website was developed, www.ct.gov/ctva, which has become a center for all veteran information in the state.
Ongoing projects include: replacement of a three-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.
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 approximately 10,000 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 2,200 walk-in veterans and/or dependents; answered over 3,500 telephone inquiries; acquired 1,400 new clients and filed 1,800 new claims. Special outreach included 100 community visits, 65 benefit fairs, seminars, and six briefings for CT Guard and Reserve Units returning from Iraq. This resulted in over $3.2M in new income and benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families.
The Department worked extensively with the General Assembly on legislative initiatives for veterans and provided briefings to the Legislature and the Select Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on services and programs provided by the Department and the federal budget implications for Connecticut veterans. The Department participated in the design, production and distribution of the Veterans’ Wartime Service Medal. Legislation was passed tasking the Department with creating and maintaining a Connecticut State Veterans’ Registry. To date, over 6,500 veterans have enrolled. In concert with Executive Order No. 5, the Commissioner assisted with the development and implementation of the criteria for the CT Veterans’ Hall of Fame which was inaugurated in November 2005.
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 2006. The agency’s total net revenues for FY 05/06 were approximately $31,100,000. 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.
The Department hosted the Women Veterans Annual Reunion on March 17, 2006 featured 200 women veterans with programs, educational presentations and services aimed at outreach to Connecticut’s women veteran population.
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, 2005, through June 30, 2006. Cash donations, totaling more than $440,245.59 funded designated projects and regularly scheduled entertainment and activities.
2005 marked the return of Stand Down, which is a statewide outreach to homeless and needy veterans, to the grounds of the Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill. Over 45 agencies, 160 volunteers and 501 veterans attended. CT Cares Stand Down 2006 is in the planning phase for September 2006.
During the 2005/2006 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. The Department implemented a plan for consolidation of inventory and control of resources. 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), 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.
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, 2006, planning continued for major Life Safety renovations to our domiciles and the construction of a 125-bed nursing facility. The Department of Public Works (DPW) assisted our agency with the proper process to carry out those two projects. The services of Moser, Pilon, Nelson Architects of Wethersfield were engaged 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. These projects are currently underway.
Federally Funded Construction Projects
New Adult Heath Care Facility
This project is a new 87,000 square foot building with 125 beds. There will be 25 single rooms and 50 two-person rooms. Ground was broken for this facility on July 13, 2006 with a completion date of January 4, 2008. Cost of this facility will be $33,823,838. The federal VA will contribute $21,985,495 and the state will be contributing $11,838,343. PDS Engineering & Construction, Inc of Bloomfield, CT is the primary General Contractor.
Life Safety General Renovations, replacement of the Water Loop System
This project is a new water loop system around the existing campus that will tie in all buildings housing veterans. Ground was broken for this project on July 10, 2006 with a completion date of July 9, 2007. Cost of this project will be $4,600,000. The federal VA will contribute $2,990,000 and the state will be contributing $1,610,000. Mather Corporation of Bloomfield, CT is the primary General Contractor.
State Funded Construction Projects
Infrastructure Improvements, Elevator Repair
This project is to overhaul an existing elevator in building 2, I-wing, to allow easy access for patients traveling from the Health Care Facility to the Residential Facility. Approximate cost for this project is $264,000. Money for this project will come out of Capital Improvement Funds and has not yet been bonded.
Fire Safety Code Improvements to East and West Domicile Buildings Doors
This project is to replace over 260 fire doors and frames in the existing Domicile living facility. Approximate cost for this project is $471,170. This project has been bonded and the start date is August 1, 2006 with 120 days to finish. Mazzarella Builders, Inc, of Kensington, CT is the primary General Contractor.
Upgrade of existing Electrical Distribution System
This project is to replace the switching gear in the Residential Facility and upgrade the distribution of electrical power in the power plant. Approximate cost for this project is $225,000. This project needs to be bonded and a contract awarded.
Agency Administrated Projects
There are numerous other agency administrated projects on going on the campus from upgrading the lighting, lowering the ceilings, replacing the floor tiles, replacing windows, upgrading the heating, and painting in the Residential Facility.
Construction of a new 25 foot by 48 foot Greenhouse to be located at the facility. This will be purchased with donated money for that purpose.
Construction of a new therapeutic and aquatic pool to be collocated with the new Health Care Facility. The therapeutic and aquatic pool will be donated and the agency will provide the money to construct the building to support the pools. At this time DPW is working on a feasibility study for this project.
Continue to upgrade the buildings on the grounds according to the agency’s Master Plan. This will include such items as roofs, gutters, windows, etc.
The Department continuously reviews all programs. Specific items of review include goals achievement, staffing requirements, equipment needs and resource utilization. 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.