A Veterans' Agenda for 2013 - Together We Can Make This Happen

Paul Evans

Right now, over $1.3 Billion in funding comes to Oregon from the US Department of Veterans' Affairs - in compensation, health care, and other benefits. However, we are losing (meaning our veterans' are not receiving) nearly $4 Billion in (set-aside benefits) benefits yearly because we have over 200,000 veterans living in Oregon that have not “claimed” the benefits earned them.

The Oregon Legislature begins its work in earnest today. And while there are a plethora of issues to be considered, few are as important as how the State of Oregon positions itself with regards to the ongoing return of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many people consider veterans' policy a federal responsibility. It truth, it has always been a partnership. The feds pay most of the bills, but the vast complexity of the issues involved with vets education, employment, health care, housing, transportation, retirement, and women's care - require a solid federal-state-community relationship.

Several years ago when I was working for Governor Kulongoski as his senior policy advisor for Emergency Management, Military, and Veterans' Affairs, I was blessed with the opportunity to play a small role in the development of a comprehensive approach for veterans’ services. It was an important first step. Much work has been done since then, but more – far more – must be done to prepare for the soon-to-be accelerated cuts in troop strength and the increase in veterans’ among us.

In an era of constraints and realignment of government functionality, the programs that return the most value to the community - especially those supported through non-state funds - should be highlighted as facilitators: partnerships can be built to increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of governance through inventive strategies. And truth be told, the short-term investment costs would be more than returned through increased federal funding associated with the outreach efforts required to realize success.

In simplest terms, funding for veterans’ services remains the best, smartest “return on investment” option available to the State of Oregon because the federal monies associated with most of them have already been set-aside. Right now, over $1.3 Billion in funding comes to Oregon from the US Department of Veterans' Affairs - in compensation, health care, and other benefits. However, we are losing (meaning our veterans' are not receiving) nearly $4 Billion in (set-aside benefits) benefits yearly because we have over 200,000 veterans living in Oregon that have not “claimed” the benefits earned them.

2013 can be an historic year for veterans’ policy. Both the Oregon House of Representatives and the Oregon State Senate have battle-tested leaders at the helm. Senator Brian Boquist and Representative Greg Matthews care about veterans and will work to make as much progress as possible: we must help provide them the support needed to make significant improvements.

Please consider the following possibilities:

  1. Cost-neutral statewide outreach tour (supplemental to 2008 Task Force) a. 24-community town hall meetings b. Internet driven network development c. ODVA Reinvention Teams

  2. Improved relationships with county Veterans’ Service Officer (VSO) organization throughout the State of Oregon a. Quarterly leadership face-to-face meetings b. Collaboratively developed budgeting plan c. Ratio-driven investment strategies (with special favor for counties implementing property tax base for Veterans’ Programming)

  3. Improved outreach efforts for returning veterans through evolution of new era association and technologies a. Development of formal relationships including emergent Afghanistan and Iraq veterans b. Integrated “fusion” internet programming to “drive” service delivery initiatives c. Public outreach for stimulating interest in post-military community service

  4. Initiation of ODVA Volunteer Corps programming established for facilitating improvements in effectiveness and efficiencies in service delivery a. Development of a formally recognized volunteer “wing” of the ODVA to assist with caseloads and follow up services b. “Mentor” crafting linking aging veterans with recent era veterans c. Initiation of property tax incentives for 300 hour/year volunteer “blocks”

  5. Prison-outreach: harvesting eligible benefits for reduction in State of Oregon programming costs associated with care/feeding/health care of dependents (outside the walls) a. Scheduled, tailored, targeted outreach to certain/specific corrections facilities on a two-year schedule to “harvest” available resources for “dependent” expenses (and realization of funds made available through VA payments) b. Regional plan (integrated) with shared outreach between ODVA, County VSOs, and service organizations c. Enhanced coordination with release service providers for post-confinement VA services

  6. Standardized veterans’ access throughout the public post-secondary campus network a. Development of scalable programming for consistent standards of care for military families b. “Plug & Play” standardization savings from system-wide implementation c. Community college and public university crosstalk, joint investment, and use of space/s

  7. Streamlined administrative structure for core mission of ODVA a. Staff-driven inquiry into cost savings b. Support for DAS driven enterprise functionality c. Development of rewards program for reinvestment of “saved” resources associated with increased effectiveness/efficiency measures – upon a ratio (ODVA and DAS split

These policies when combined with a dedicated Lottery Fund game (in lieu of General Fund increases), expanded flexibility in housing programming options, and the right leadership - and followership - can secure the progress made, and build upon it. The US will reshape the scale, size, and strength of the military as a result of Sequestration (and/or whatever deal makes it marginally less draconian). We will soon have more veterans in our communities then we thought we would, even last year.

This is our moment, it is our time. Together we can do what we know we should: good policy is good politics - and together we can make this post-war reintegration a net "gain" for the returning warriors as well as our nation, state, and communities.

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