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Public Statements

Issue Position: Veterans

Issue Position

By:
Location: Unknown

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the veterans who have honorably served us. We will fight to ensure they have the benefits promised to them when they first agreed to defend this country. We will focus on meeting the needs of Colorado's veterans, ending veteran homelessness, and preparing the National Guard to meet State emergencies.

Key Priorities

* Identify new and existing funding opportunities.
* Work to resolve the disconnect to ensure that Veterans using the Veterans nursing home system are receiving continuity of care and access to full benefits.
* Veteran-based job training programs such as Veterans Green Jobs and other job training and placement services.
* Support for the Development of Fitzsimmons Hospital.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to the veterans who have honorably served us and we will fight to ensure they have the benefits promised to them when they first agreed to defend this country." -John Hickenlooper

Background

There are approximately 700,000 Veterans in the Rocky Mountain West. Of this, an estimated 426,000 Veterans reside in Colorado. Taking into account Veterans' family members, who often bear the greatest burdens of decreased Veteran services, there are over two-million people in the region affected by Veteran health care policy. One of the hallmarks of

Veteran health care is its delivery in specialized and dedicated Veterans' health care facilities.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq mean that more service members are leaving military service and seeking care through the Veterans Administration (VA) system. VA data show that as of March 2008, over 868,000 Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) service members left military service became eligible for VA care. Of these individuals, over 340,000 (about 40 percent) accessed VA health care. As of July 2008, over 32,000 service members were wounded in OEF or OIF.

Due to the increasing effectiveness of battlefield medicine, many combat wounded Veterans who would have died in the past are now surviving, many with severe injuries such as amputations, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The VA is responsible for maintaining facilities to diagnose and treat Veterans with these conditions. Historically, VA facilities serve the dual role of providing a necessary community for Veterans to meet and share their shared experiences as well as serving as a critical component of mental healthcare for PTSD patients. In addition to diagnosing and supporting Veterans with TBI and PTSD, the diagnosis and treatment of spinal cord injuries require specialized and dedicated facilities.

Division of Veteran Affairs: In 2010 the Division of Veterans Affairs (DVA) consists of 12 state employees with eight at the Lowry facility and four at the Veterans Cemetery in Grand Junction. More than 420 thousand Veterans reside in Colorado, and today many Coloradans are deployed overseas. Veterans and active-duty military are key components in Colorado's economy and social fabric. The primary mission of the DVA is to assist all these eligible Colorado Veterans in securing their benefits and entitlements under all applicable federal and state statutes. This would include providing a central source of information on Veterans benefits and other related issues as well as the training of the County Veteran Service Officers. The Division also provides support to the State Board of Veterans Affairs.

Colorado National Guard: In 2010, the Army National Guard (ARMY) had 3,600 federally funded employees. The National Guard has units at Buckley Air Force Base (AFB), Greeley, Peterson AFB and Fort Carson. The missions of the National Guard are three-part:

1. Provide trained and ready forces when called to duty by the President or Secretary of Defense.
2. Provide trained and ready units, personnel, and equipment for the preservation of life and property during natural disasters and civil emergencies when ordered by the Governor;
3. Participate as active organizations and contributing citizens in problems facing communities. Colorado has the nation's 12th largest military presence with over 50,000 active duty personnel stationed at various facilities.

Strategies and Solutions

Colorado Veterans Trust Fund (VTF): Prior to 2006 $3.6 million was transferred from the VTF to cover State General Fund Obligations. These amounts were restored during the Ritter administration. In 2010 approximately $5 million were transferred to the National Guard on a temporary basis to obtain Federal matching funds to build additional Colorado National Guard armories. The intent of this funds transfer was to leverage VTF monies during the down budget cycle. We will monitor this trust fund with the intent that the VTF be restored when the economy improves and funding is available.

County Veterans Service Officer Program (CVSO): This program is intended to provide Veterans in all areas of the state with access to information, health care, pension and compensation benefits through the efforts of 75 county Veteran service officers. Veterans in Colorado receive approximately $1.6 billion (in 2006) in federal benefits. We will work closely to identify new and existing funding opportunities (e.g. HUD VASH) from the federal government to leverage and maximize these services.

Aging Veterans: The State Board found that the segment of Colorado's Veteran population over 75 years of age and eligible for Veteran nursing home beds will increase by nearly one-third between 2010 and 2025. This will require 786 beds in state Veterans nursing homes compared to the 606 beds currently available. The State's Veteran's nursing homes are currently operated by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). We will work to resolve the disconnect to ensure that Veterans using the Veterans nursing home system are receiving continuity of care and access to full benefits.

Rural Veterans: A disproportionate number of Colorado's Veterans reside in rural communities with little or no Veterans health care facilities. Colorado's seven VA Community- Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) provide some care to these Veterans but many individuals have to make frequent trips to Denver to receive treatment at the Denver VA Medical Center. The construction of the new VA Hospital at Fitzsimons will not solve this problem. A critical issue for many of these Veterans is transportation to Denver or to one of the regional CBOCS. We will work to respond to these transportation needs through mechanisms such as VTF grant money to pay transportation expenses for these rural Veterans.

Job Training, Rehabilitation and Business Opportunities: The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Personnel and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation need to be fully equipped to provide a high level of job training, rehabilitation and business opportunities. As younger Veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is critical to provide resources to ensure a seamless transition for these Veterans back to civilian life. In addition, Veteran-based job training programs such as Veterans Green Jobs and others provide specific job training and placement services will continue to be critical in combating the high rates of homelessness among this population.

Support for Guard and Reserve Personnel Returning from a War Zone: These personnel often do not have access to the same transition support provided to the active duty military. This includes mental health support to assist soldiers and their family members dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. They also need to be guaranteed their jobs on return. We will work closely with the State Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure that returning personnel will have their jobs back. In addition, we believe that the State's National Guard Forces must be adequately retrained and equipped to be capable of performing its state disaster response mission.

Support for the Development of Fitzsimmons Hospital: In the same spirit of cooperation that existed between Denver and Aurora to develop the world-class medical campus that now exists at Fitzsimmons, we will continue to work collaboratively to foster both cutting edge research and economic development opportunities afforded by this health care model. The Fitzsimons Life Science District is the center of Colorado's bioscience community and is one of the largest bioscience developments in the country.


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