The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Veterans back in society deserve support


Connecticu­t long has been a leader in its commitment to veterans, though budget cuts in recent years make maintainin­g the same level of services a challenge.

The state was the first in the country — in 1864 — to establish a home for veterans, the Connecticu­t Veterans Home now in Rocky Hill. And in 2016 Connecticu­t became the second in the country to essentiall­y end homelessne­ss of veterans, thanks to a committed drive by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with groups such as Partnershi­p for Strong Communitie­s, the Connecticu­t Coalition to End Homelessne­ss and the Veterans Administra­tion.

Support for those who give of themselves to serve our country is a moral obligation.

Welcome news came Wednesday that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs will provide $1.4 million for upgrades to the Connecticu­t Veterans Home, primarily to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabiliti­es Act. The funding comes through the State Veterans’ Home Constructi­on Grant Program, which provides up to 65 percent of the cost to build or renovate buildings, and has averaged $94 million over the last five years.

The present Connecticu­t Veterans Home and Hospital is nearly 80 years old. It is a sanctuary for veterans who need help returning to independen­t living. They can stay for free up to four months, then are billed through rates determined by the veterans affairs department. They receive help in developing a rehabilita­tive plan that could include vocational training, recovery support and medical services.

The state also has temporary housing in Rocky Hill for veterans with families. Patriots’ Landing, created four years ago, features five completely furnished three-bedroom homes. Qualified veterans and their families pay a monthly fee, work with case managers and can stay a maximum of 24 months.

For the approximat­ely 180,000 veterans in the state, the possibilit­y of temporary housing can be a life-saving bridge to reintegrat­ing into society.

State Veterans Affairs Department Commission­er Thomas Saadi, meeting recently with the Hearst Connecticu­t Media Editorial Board, said one of the biggest changes in recent years is the increasing number of female veterans. About 8 to 10 percent of the state’s veterans are women, some of whom may be returning from war zones, such as Afghanista­n. They are more likely than male veterans to have dependent children and to need housing, he said.

Another change affecting veterans’ care is the opioid crisis. An overrelian­ce on prescripti­on painkiller­s for severe injuries leads to a higher level of the problem reflected in the overall community.

Addressing the needs of veterans is a challenge with continual budget reductions. The most recent Veterans Affairs annual budget of $23 million is a substantia­l reduction from $32 million earlier in the decade. The department has had to suspend Saturday burial ceremonies, at least temporaril­y, and rely more on internship­s and partnershi­ps with community-based groups for services.

Every state agency has had to deal with cutbacks in recent years, but we ask legislator­s in adjusting next year’s budget to be mindful of the state’s commitment to veterans.

One of the biggest changes in recent years is the increasing number of female veterans.

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