California Should Do More To Help State Veterans, Report Finds
California's Department of Veterans Affairs should be doing more to provide veterans in the state with adequate services, including timely health care benefits and pension payments, according to a report by the Little Hoover Commission, U-T San Diego reports.
There are nearly 2 million U.S. veterans residing in California, and approximately 35,000 more veterans are expected to return to the state annually as military action in Iraq and Afghanistan ends.
Details of Report
The 13-member commission spent months studying veterans' services in the state, including examining more than two dozen expert testimonies.
The report focused on efforts to increase funding for the department -- known as CalVet -- and counties to improve veterans' services.
The commission found that CalVet "has been slow to anticipate and implement necessary changes, in no small part due to inconsistent leadership."
In addition, Jonathan Shapiro -- chair of the commission -- in an interview said, "Services delayed for sick and wounded and needy veterans are services denied."
The committee acknowledged some improvements at CalVet, including:
- Increased funding to speed up federal benefit claims;
- New leadership; and
- Reviving a neglected home lending program.
However, the report concluded that "California can do better, and to honor those who have sacrificed for the many, it must do better."
The commission recommended that CalVet:
- Be granted greater flexibility to shift funds internally to meet demands;
- Shift estate funds to the general fund;
- Create a database of veterans to help them obtain services and benefits; and
- Prioritize women and younger veterans.
The report noted that implementing more specialized assistance programs could "help California veterans immeasurably, as well as bring new money into the state economy." According to the report, some observers estimate that the state loses $500 million to $1 billion annually in pension and health care payments because of a claims backlog and other issues.
CalVet Secretary Peter Gravett in a written response pledged to "ensure that California veterans achieve the highest quality of life this state has to offer and the dignity and respect they deserve."
Gravett did not challenge the commission's findings in his response, according to U-T San Diego.
In addition, state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) -- chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee -- said the commission's findings provide "important insight on how we can improve our veteran services and invest in ways that will allow us to effectively leverage federal dollars to benefit California veterans" (Gardner, U-T San Diego, 9/1).
Editorial Supports Commission's Suggestions
A Sacramento Bee editorial states that the commission's report "presents a promising road map forward" for the Veterans Affairs department.
The commission's recommendations that CalVet increase aid to county veterans services offices and collaborate better with federal agencies "could combat an appalling fact: California is losing out each year on several hundred million in federal dollars that should be going to veterans for pension and health benefits -- and that could be boosting the state economy," the editorial states.
The editorial notes that the report "deserves wide notice, particularly from lawmakers."
It concludes that anything less than ensuring that state veterans have access to services in a timely manner "is an unacceptable failure" (Sacramento Bee, 9/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.