Department of Veterans’ Affairs
At a Glance
DR. LINDA SPOONSTER SCHWARTZ, Major, USAF (Ret.), Commissioner
John T. Wiltse, Deputy Commissioner
Established - 1986
Central office - 287 West Street,
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
Number of full-time employees - 263
Recurring operating expenses – $35,321,492
Agency generated revenue 2008-09 - $34,886,577
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.
Office of the Commissioner
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 is also responsible for 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 277,000 Connecticut veterans and their families. 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.
The Office of Advocacy and Assistance
The Office of Advocacy and Assistance (OA&A) is responsible for assisting veterans and their families in accessing federal, state and local benefits and entitlements. Veterans Service Officers, accredited by the U.S. 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) and include bilingual staff and a woman’s veterans’ services coordinator. Additional advocacy work is performed throughout the state on a staff available, rotating basis at satellite office locations and through the “Vet Express” mobile outreach van. Veterans Service Officers also conduct interviews in skilled nursing facilities throughout the state to determine the number of veterans admitted and ascertain which benefits these veterans are currently receiving and/or entitled to receive.
This year OA&A serviced 2000 walk-in veterans and/or dependents; answered over 5,000 telephone inquiries; acquired 1,250 new clients and filed 1,851 new claims. Special outreach included 60 community outreach events including benefit fairs, seminars, and numerous briefings for Connecticut National Guard and Reserve Units deploying to and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. These advocacy efforts resulted in over $4.0 million in new income and benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families.
In Fiscal Year 2008-2009, the Office of Advocacy and Assistance also reviewed the eligibility status of an additional 1500 veterans and/or dependents of veterans in the state’s 330 skilled nursing facilities. 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.
OA&A also manages the Connecticut Wartime Service Medals and Registry program and this year awarded over 8,000 additional medals – bringing to 22,000 the total number of Wartime Service Medals awarded to eligible veterans since 2006. The agency has helped coordinate and support over 60 award ceremonies across the state enabling veterans to be presented their medals in person. This year the agency also initiated an application and approval process to award posthumous Wartime Service Medals to the families of eligible veterans, as authorized by state law. Currently there are over 23,000 veterans registered with the Connecticut Veterans Registry.
The Connecticut Veterans INFO line (1-866-9CT-VETS) continues to receive an average of 25 calls per day. This popular number provides veterans an easy access to general benefit information, assistance with requesting military records, referrals to other state agencies, and helpful information on the location and availability of the Congressional District Offices.
Connecticut Veterans’ Home at Rocky Hill – John L. Levitow Healthcare Center
We provide comprehensive healthcare for veterans across the continuum of needs. The Department’s in-patient healthcare covers a complete array of services, from Long-term Nursing care and Dementia care to Rehabilitation and End of Life care. A Plan of Care is developed and continually updated throughout the veteran’s stay and, quality healthcare services provided to assist the veteran reach his/her maximum potential.
The Veterans’ Home Programs are a major element of the Department’s operations. The Programs offer a progressive, caring continuum of health care, social and rehabilitative services dedicated to excellence. The Program has adopted a Rehabilitative Model of Care based on the definition of care developed by the noted nurse theorist, Virginia Henderson (Army School of Nursing).
The Health Care Center is licensed by the State Department of Public Health as Chronic Disease Hospital for 125 beds. The Healthcare Center opened its doors in October, 2008. Under the direction of the Healthcare Services Administrator, the medical staff, nursing department and substance abuse team, provides comprehensive medical and rehabilitation services in order to improve every aspect of care for each veteran served.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) offers twenty-four hour quality healthcare to veterans with chronic and disabling medical conditions and whose needs require specialized care. Examples of conditions treated include; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), End Stage Renal Disease, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Accident (CVA), Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, End of Life and Palliative care, and Pain Management. The Center’s medical team consists of two Board Certified Physicians and four Advanced Practice Registered Nurses who specialize in caring for veterans who present with multiple complex conditions. The medical team provides healthcare management for all veterans at the Center and for those who reside in the Residential Facility.
Programs include general medical care, Alzheimer’s and related dementia care, end of life care, palliative care, long term care, rehabilitation, respite care, mental health and psychological counseling, and a formal substance abuse rehabilitation program. Primary care clinics are available for veterans in the healthcare facility and residents in the residential facility. In addition to Medicine and Nursing, specialty areas include Physical, Occupational, Speech, and Recreational Therapy, Laboratory, Radiology, Pharmacy, Social Work, Cardiopulmonary and Dental.
The Respite Care Program is intermittent care provided to the disabled veteran in an inpatient setting for the purpose of providing relief to the family member or caregiver. Veterans are eligible for 28 days of respite care per calendar year. This program served 28 veterans.
End of Life and Palliative Care provides special medical, psychological and spiritual needs to the terminally ill. Pain management, special nursing visits, alternative therapies and volunteer companions are provided to comfort the veteran at end of life. A wide range of support and counseling services for veterans and their loved ones, including individual and grief counseling, spiritual counseling, resource planning and assistance with end-of-life issues are provided.
A veteran requesting care at the John L. Levitow Center must be a resident of the State of Connecticut. The veteran must have served honorably to be eligible. Applications for admission are required in advance. There were two hundred and thirty-one (231) veterans who were admitted to the Health Care Center in 2008-2009. This number is broken down as eighteen new admissions, one hundred and forty-two readmissions and seventy0one veterans admitted from the Residential Facility.
Recovery Support Program
Connecticut has had an active substance abuse recovery program specifically for veterans since 1995. This is a clinical program which is administered through the Health Care Facility and has a capacity of 75 veterans. This program 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. This program is staffed by a Clinical Psychologist and Substance Abuse Counselors. The program is three (3) months of intensive substance abuse recovery programs followed by nine (9) months of additional residential support. The Recovery Support 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. A total of 124 veterans took part in this program. Veterans admitted to this service that successfully completed the program, remains at 80%.
The Residential Facility is available to homeless and needy veterans seeking assistance to improve the overall quality of their life. In addition to providing assistance with shelter, food, and clothing, the Veterans’ Improvement Program (VIP) offers a continuum of rehabilitation services designed to assist veterans in achieving educational and or employment goals necessary to prepare them to return to independent living. Emphasis is directed toward developing an individualized rehabilitation plan which identifies a veteran’s goals. Quarterly treatment team meetings are held whereby Social Workers and Vocational staff monitor and assist veterans in achieving their goals. Additional components of the program include medical care, psychiatric care, substance abuse treatment, a compensated work therapy program, vocational counseling services, social work services, recreation services and various educational programs. In the last fiscal year there were 187 veterans admitted. For the 2008/09 fiscal year, 60 of the veterans successfully completed the program and returned to independent living in the community. The average daily census for 2008/09 was 374 veterans.
Veterans Burial Services/Cemetery System
The Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs operates a full-time Burial Services Office based in Rocky Hill that delivers burial benefits and assistance to thousands of veteran families, answering more than 9,000 inquiries each year. Services provided include burial plot coordination, ordering of veteran headstones and foot markers, consultation on available benefits, assistance with interment ceremonies, processing of federal reimbursement payments and coordination of memorial ceremonies. The savings to veterans’ families when utilizing CT DVA burial services is substantial, totaling over $1,636,000 this year.
The Connecticut State Cemetery System consists of three state cemeteries: the Connecticut State Veterans’ Cemetery, located in Middletown; Col. Raymond Gates Cemetery, located in Rocky Hill; and Spring Grove Cemetery, located in Darien. The CT DVA is responsible for the care, maintenance and development of all three cemeteries and installs all headstones. The State Veterans’ Cemetery in Middletown is open for burials six days a week and contains over 6,917 remains of Connecticut veterans. The Spring Grove Cemetery closed for internments in 1964.
From July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009, 497 internments were performed at Connecticut State Veterans’ Cemeteries. During the same period, the Burial Services Office collected $165,300 in federal reimbursement burial allowances for the General Fund. Also, installation payments for 3,430 federal veteran headstones/foot markers were processed totaling $335,814.
Appropriate telecommunication and information technology resources – infrastructure, telephones, computers, etc – were successfully deployed in the newly constructed Healthcare Facility. A similar improvement project was completed to centralize the Safety and Security division into a newly renovated building in the center of the campus.
Additional HIPAA compliance improvement was achieved by partnering with DOIT to install wireless access network throughout the agency. This provides wireless capability as well as wireless rogue intrusion prevention for the agency’s network.
Working collaboratively with the Department of Information Technology (DOIT) the plan for a Learning Management System was completed. The e-learning initiative would facilitate in-service training and certification requirement in the agency.
Upgrading the agency’s lighting for energy conservation and cost reduction was completed during the fiscal year. In addition to improved lighting within the agency buildings, the estimated energy savings is $1,016,592.80 over the lifetime of the newly installed fixtures.
The Faces of Connecticut’s Fallen
At the request of Governor M. Jodi Rell, Commissioner Schwartz commissioned a traveling tribute to the forty-four servicemen and servicewomen with ties to Connecticut who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The exhibit is currently housed at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Rocky Hill.
Veterans Hall of Fame- Since its inception in 2005, each year we have received over 70 nominations for this award. Ten veterans are inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame annually.
CT DVA continued to partner with the CT Department of Labor in organizing and supporting “Heroes for Hire” veteran job fairs around the state in an effort to match qualified veterans with businesses and organizations interested in hiring them.
CT DVA was a key sponsor of the Connecticut Veterans Day Parade on November 2, 2008 and held in conjunction with the parade an informational forum and luncheon for women veterans who have served since World War II.
On December 10, 2008, CT DVA held its annual holiday observance at the State Veterans Home this year welcoming over 40 homeless children and mothers from the Hartford South Park Inn shelter to dinner and the program, presenting donated gifts and supplies to the needy families.
· Stand Down 2008, which is a state-wide outreach to homeless and needy veterans, was another success. It was held on the grounds of the Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill. Over 50 agencies, 268 volunteers contributing 1,608 hours of service and 1000 veterans attended. Stand Down 2009 is scheduled for September 18, 2009.
Safety and Security Department Accomplishments for 2008-2009
The Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs continues to implement a comprehensive, wide-ranging effort to upgrade safety and security problems, and to improve the general condition of the Rocky Hill facility.
In order to meet the Commissioner’s effort to upgrade the safety and security posture, the following have been implemented:
· Completed Phase I accomplishments of the security audit conducted by the Security Manager of the Department of Public Works
· 40 hour security training of all Buildings and Grounds Patrol Officers (B&GPO) on basic security procedures
· State police training of some B&GPO on interviewing techniques
· Phase II of the security audit report is being studied to determine means for effective implementation
Agency Administrated Projects
· Upgrading the lighting, lowering the ceilings, replacing the floor tiles, replacing windows, upgrading the heating, A/C and painting in the Residential Facility.
· Installation of air conditioning of residential domicile areas is 50% complete.
· Renovations of the softball field completed.
Upgrading DVA Lighting for Energy Conservation - FY 2008/2009
In accordance with the Governor’s initiative for energy conservation, and pursuant to the DVA energy plan, a comprehensive assessment of the lighting infrastructure was conducted throughout the agency. Working in collaboration with the Department of Public Works (DPW), DVA was able to participate in the CL&P energy efficiency incentive program to carry out a light fixture retrofit project. The $320,717.17 project was funded through a combination of 39.42% or $126,433.12 utility share (under the CL&P Small Business Energy Advantage program) with the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF) and 60.58% or $194,283.98 from DPW. DPW designated this project as DPW Project No. BI-2B-176 (40) - energy “Scorecard” project no. 13 with CL&P.
Energy Cost Savings
The post installation report presented to DVA by DPW shows that the estimated energy savings is $1,016,592.80 over the lifetime of the fixtures. Estimated reduced oil consumption is 37,216.7 gallons per year. It was further documented that estimated Power Plant Emissions would be:
CO2 (a “greenhouse” gas) = 629,447.12 lbs/Year
SO2 (a cause of acid rain) = 447.68 lbs/Year
NOx (a cause of acid rain) = 388.35 lbs/Year
During the 2008/2009 Fiscal Year the agency continues 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. All contracts were reviewed and amended to be more consistent with actual needs of veterans at Rocky Hill.
· A Grant for Life Safety Upgrades with matching VA funds is pending.
· Construction of a new therapeutic and aquatic pool to be co-located 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 pool.
· 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.
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.
Agency recruitment continues to attract qualified candidates for job openings while striving to meet or exceed the agency’s Affirmative Action initiatives, continuing to assure all candidates are treated fairly and equally. Human Resources and the respective hiring manager(s) work closely during the entire recruitment process to accomplish these important goals. Through good communication and good faith negotiations Human Resources has resolved several employee conflicts without the need for employees to file grievances.
The Department’s Affirmative Action Plan was in compliance with the requirements of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, pursuant to the Regulations for Affirmative Action by State Government, Sections 46a-68-31 to 46a-68-74. The Department is strongly committed to an aggressive and comprehensive affirmative action plan to assure equal employment opportunity as well as to provide services and programs to veterans in a fair and culturally competent manner. Affirmative action and equal employment are immediate and priority objectives and they play an important and necessary role in all stages of the employment process. The Department continued to monitor and improve its practices in employment and contracting, giving special consideration to affirmative action goal attainment.