Department of Veterans’ Affairs
At a Glance
DR. LINDA SPOONSTER SCHWARTZ, Major, USAF (Ret.), Commissioner
John T. Wiltse, Deputy Commissioner
Established - 1986
Statutory authority - CGS Chapter 506 Sec: 27-103-27-137
Central office - 287 West Street,
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
Number of full-time employees – 256
Recurring operating expenses – 2009-10 - $30,983,973
Agency generated revenue 2009-10 - $38,662,632
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 to 1863 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 1,450 new clients and filed 1,999 new claims. Special outreach included 50 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 $5.0 million in new income and benefits to Connecticut veterans and their families.
In Fiscal Year 2010-2011, the Office of Advocacy and Assistance also reviewed the eligibility status of an additional 1700 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 5,000 additional medals – bringing to 27,000 the total number of Wartime Service Medals awarded to eligible veterans since 2006. The agency has helped coordinate and support over 50 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 26,000 veterans registered with the Connecticut Veterans Registry.
The Connecticut Veterans INFO line (1-866-9CT-VETS) continues to receive an average of 30 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.
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 13,000 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 $1,739,000 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 7425 remains of Connecticut veterans. The Spring Grove Cemetery closed for internments in 1964.
From July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, 508 internments were performed at Connecticut State Veterans’ Cemeteries. During the same period, the Burial Services Office collected $108,300 in federal reimbursement burial allowances for the General Fund. Also, installation payments for 3267 federal veteran headstones/foot markers were processed totaling $322,966.
Connecticut Veterans’ Home at Rocky Hill – Sgt. John L. Levitow Healthcare Center
Information Reported as Required by State Statute
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.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs provides 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.
A veteran requesting care at the Sgt. John L. Levitow Healthcare 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 seventy eight (278) veterans who were admitted to the Health Care Center in 2009-2010. This number is broken down as eighteen new admissions, one hundred and forty-two readmissions and seventy-one veterans admitted from the Residential Facility.
The Veterans’ Home Healthcare 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 Sgt. John L. Levitow Healthcare Center is licensed by the State Department of Public Health as a 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 teams provide 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 and diagnoses. 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 29 veterans during 2009-2010.
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.
Recovery Support Program
Connecticut has had an active substance abuse recovery program specifically for veterans since 1989. This is a clinical program which is administered through the Healthcare 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, a program director and substance abuse counselors. The substance abuse counselors provide substance abuse assessment and treatment referrals for any veteran residing at the CTDVA. The Recovery Support Program consists of six (6) months of intensive substance abuse recovery programming followed by six (6) months aftercare with the option of remaining for up to twelve (12) months of additional residential support. The rate of successful completion is at 90% or better for the Recovery Support Program. FY09-FY10 yearly relapse rate is 2.29% which is well below the community standard for recovery programs.
The Residential Facility provides assistance to homeless and needy veterans seeking to improve the overall quality of their life. Veterans with an Honorable or General under Honorable Conditions Discharge are eligible to apply for admission to the Residential Facility. Once approved for admission, veterans receive a host of services in addition to the basic necessities of shelter, food, and clothing. Under the Veterans’ Improvement Program (VIP) 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 is provided. Emphasis is directed toward developing an individualized rehabilitation plan which identifies a veteran’s goals. Quarterly treatment team meetings, along with ongoing case management allow social workers and vocational staff to monitor and assist veterans in achieving their goals. Additional components of the program include medical care, psychiatric care, substance abuse recovery support, a compensated work therapy program, vocational counseling services, social work services, recreation services and various educational programs. In the last fiscal year there were 64 veterans admitted to the Residential Facility. For the 2009/10 fiscal year, 57 of the veterans successfully completed the program and returned to independent living in the community. The average daily census for 2009/10 was 355 veterans.
The agency Planning Division functions within the Office of the Commissioner. The role of the planning division includes strategic planning; program development; Continuity of Operations (COOP) planning and incident command; and special projects administration. The special projects include agency-administered projects in collaboration with the Department of Public Works (DPW) and representation on DPW project teams; grants application / management processes; and agency energy management initiatives. The Planning Division is helping to oversee the $9.16 million Life Safety Domicile Renovation Project in collaboration with DPW
The division is also responsible for the management of Information Technology / Telecommunications (IT), and Clinical Laboratory services.
The 14th Annual Stand Down 2009, a state-wide outreach to homeless and needy veterans was another success, increasing participation from 1000 in 2008 to 1200 in 2009. For the first time, charitable contributions and federal grants covered the full cost of this significant event. It was held on the grounds of the Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill with over 60 federal, state and community agencies offering services and benefits information to needy veterans. A total of 213 volunteers contributed 1535 hours of service in support of this event. Stand Down 2010 is scheduled for September 10, 2010.
Veterans Hall of Fame- Since its inception in 2005, the Department has received 50 to 70 nominations each year for this honor. Governor Rell inducted eleven distinguished veteran-citizens into the Class of 2009 on November 17, 2009 in the Atrium of the Legislative Office Building. The agency maintains a complete listing and biography of each of the fifty-one inductees on its website: www.ct.gov/ctva.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is a major sponsor of the annual Connecticut Veterans Day Parade held in Hartford on November 8, 2009. The parade honored Vietnam Veterans as a belated “Welcome Home” and Commissioner Schwartz held a reception honoring the veterans of the Vietnam War on parade day.
On Veterans Day, November 11, 2009, Governor Rell announced the formation of a non-profit foundation to design and build a State Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the Col. Gates State Veterans Cemetery in Rocky Hill.
On December 16, 2009, CT DVA held its Annual Holiday Observance at the State Veterans Home this year welcoming over 50 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. The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard Band played holiday music for the gathering of veteran residents, patients and guests.
On January 10, 2010, the seventeenth OASIS Center for veteran college students was dedicated at a ribbon cutting at Manchester Community College. The OASIS Program is active on all public college campuses of the state, assisting veterans returning to college after combat duty. The agency continues to cooperate with the Department of Higher Education, the chancellors of the state universities and community colleges as well as UConn and its branches in this program to support the needs of combat veterans as they return to civilian life.
The agency was pleased to host many special guests who visited with the veterans of the State Veterans Home during the year, including Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable Tammy Duckworth, the United States Air Force Academy Woodwind Quintet, and actor, dancer Ben Vereen. Throughout the year, dedicated volunteers logged over 5,000 hours in support of Veterans Home activities in Rocky Hill. The volunteers are comprised of individuals who volunteer their time with patients, as well as community groups who come in to complete specific projects on the grounds of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. During the holiday season, volunteers decorate the healthcare facility, main dining rooms and other locations, collect donations, wrap, sort and distribute thousands of donated gifts to the patients and residents of the State Veterans Home. The agency participated in the annual United Way “Day of Caring” where volunteers provided gardening and decorating assistance to the grounds and recreation rooms of the Domiciliary of the Veterans Home. Sailors from the U.S. Sub Base in Groton came on several occasions to move furniture, install new furniture donated from the Navy and assist in other preparations for the impending renovations project on the campus.
Website: www.ct.gov/ctva. The agency produces a quarterly newsletter which is distributed electronically to over 3000 readers and is also posted on the agency website. A Digital Directory of Veterans Memorials in the cities and towns of Connecticut has been developed and is also available on the agency website. Over 50 towns have sent in photos and historical information to date. The website is updated with news and benefits information from the federal VA and other veterans’ organizations.
Safety and Security
The Agency continues to implement a comprehensive, wide-ranging effort to upgrade the safety and security conditions of its main campus in Rocky Hill. The following safety and security projects were initiated or implemented in FY09-10:
· Implementation of Phase II of the Security Audit. This included relocation of the Security Headquarters Office to renovated space that accommodates the upgraded closed circuit television monitors, radio communications and new telephone system to facilitate safety and security throughout the campus.
· Installation of additional CCTV cameras to increase the security posture of the facility.
· Installation of additional, external safety measures at the new Levitow Healthcare Center, include railings, screens and fences.
· Participation in the planning and implementation of the Domiciliary Life Safety Upgrade Project.
· Improvements to the general safety posture of the Agency through an aggressive program of inspections and agency exercises. .
In FY09-10 the agency worked tirelessly to meet the fiscal challenges of the state budget. The DVA lost 25 employees (10% of the workforce) from the early retirement incentive and the agency’s general fund appropriation was reduced by 9.81%. The agency implemented a plan for expenditure control/ monitoring of the Operational Expense (OE) budget – cost savings were achieved through reorganization, reduction in the utilization of outside professional services and the reduction of overtime. All contracts were reviewed and amended to be more consistent with the actual needs of our veterans at Rocky Hill. The agency also worked with the Department of Social Services, Department of Administrative Services, and Office of the State Comptroller to re-evaluate the Medicaid per diem rate for the care of our healthcare patients. The result is the agency’s 2009-2010 revenue increased 10.82% or $3,776,054 and the 2009-2010 expenditures reduced by 12.28% or $4,337,518 when compared to the revenue/ expenditures for the 2008-2009 period.
The Human Resources Division of the Agency provides comprehensive human resources management to the department including, recruitment, selection, employee counseling, benefits, retention, performance management, FMLA administration, Employee Assistance Program, labor relations, workforce and organizational planning, training, staff development, workers’ compensation administration and advising Department heads on various HR issues and recommending and assisting with implementing solutions.
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.