Program Review and Investigations Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-6855

Title:

AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE LEGISLATIVE PROGRAM REVIEW AND INVESTIGATIONS COMMITTEE REGARDING RESIDENTIAL SERVICES AT THE VETERANS' HOME.

Vote Date:

3/13/2015

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/5/2015

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill is a result of recommendations made in the PRI study Veterans' Home at Rocky Hill: Residential Services (December 2014). The report concluded, among other things, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) should improve its residential care for veterans in numerous ways.

The report's major recommendation was to transform the Home's domiciliary into two programs, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing. The PRI bill as originally drafted required DVA to make that change by January 1, 2016, with two interim progress reports due during fall 2015. The original bill also required the interim progress reports address the department's efforts to implement other PRI report recommendations regarding the Home's domiciliary, including eliminating the current resident worker programs and starting a work program for transitional housing residents.

In addition, the original bill required numerous changes to broaden the membership and strengthen the responsibilities of the DVA Board of Trustees. For example, three Home residents were added to the board as non-voting members (one each from transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and the health care facility), and so were two representatives of different Connecticut veterans' organizations (among the governor's ten appointees). The board was also given the responsibility of requesting information from DVA that would allow it to monitor the department's progress.

Finally, the original bill increased transparency and resident input regarding the fund into which Home resident fees are placed.

Substitute language:

1. Requires the department to submit one report to the legislature by January 1, 2016, with its plans for:

a. providing transitional housing and permanent supportive housing to veterans at the Veterans' Home or any other location as determined by DVA;

b. implementing the PRI committee's other recommendations regarding domiciliary care, including the care of residents who are aging in place; and

c. offering on-campus work programs for residents at the Home.

2. Requires the DVA commissioner to provide housing to any veteran residing at the Veterans' Home on the relevant effective date of the bill section.

3. Modifies representation on the DVA Board of Trustees to include:

a. two Home residents as voting members, one each from the Home's domiciliary care and health care facility;

b. on a rotating basis, all federally chartered veterans' service organizations in Connecticut;

c. at least one female veteran; and

d. at least one veteran from armed conflicts occurring within the ten years preceding appointment to the board.

4. Gives the Board of Trustees a role in receiving complaints from Home residents, residents' relatives or authorized representatives, and employees.

5. Further strengthens the Board of Trustees by:

a. placing the onus on the commissioner to provide the board with the necessary information it needs for performance oversight, instead of the board requesting such information, and lists specific types of information to be submitted to the board, including complaints received/resolved by the commissioner; and

b. requiring the DVA board to review and comment on the department's budget and major policies relating to the Veterans' Home.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

The Department of Veterans' Affairs generally supports the bill with modifications.1 Several of the department's concerns have been addressed through substitute language, as reflected above.

The department is apprehensive about requiring transitional and permanent supportive housing at the Home by the date specified in the bill (January 1, 2016), and “is concerned about the fiscal and programmatic impacts of moving so quickly.” DVA would like a longer timeframe. The department also said additional permanent supportive housing is needed but is unsure if the Rocky Hill campus is the most appropriate location, from a policy standpoint. In addition, DVA supports an assessment of the need for additional transitional housing. (addressed by substitute language)

The department requested reconsideration of the requirement that it report twice to the legislature in 2015 on its efforts to implement transitional and permanent supportive housing at the Home. DVA asserted the Lieutenant Governor's Working Group (also studying the Home) should first issue its recommendations, and then the department can implement PRI's recommendations "in concert with” the Working Group's recommendations. (addressed by substitute language)

The department recommends that it publish an annual report – instead of a bi-annual report sent to each resident of the Home – outlining the expenditures from its Institutional General Welfare Fund (IGWF), and the contributions the fund has made to veterans statewide, not just those living at the Veterans' Home.

DVA prefers not to have residents on its Board of Trustees. Instead, a “Standing Committee” within the board could be established to receive and respond to residents' suggestions and complaints. If residents are required to sit on the board, DVA suggests designating the president of the Home's veterans' council as a non-voting member.

The department recommended that all federally chartered veterans' service organizations in Connecticut be represented, on a rotating basis, on the DVA Board of Trustees. Among the governor's ten appointments to the board, members from four such organizations would serve a two-year term, followed by two-year terms for members of the other four organizations; the rotation would continue into the future. (addressed by substitute language)

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

● Connecticut Veterans and Military Coalition supports the bill, but wants to increase the number of DVA Board of Trustees members representing federally chartered veterans' service organizations in Connecticut from two to eight different organizations (within the governor's ten appointments). Nominations for board members would be made by the organizations to the governor. (addressed by substitute language)

18 veterans, including residents, and others (e.g., current and past Board of Trustees members and former DVA staff) generally support the bill. They provided oral testimony at the PRI public hearing, mostly in favor of the bill. Several of those testifying noted that adequate funding would be required to implement the key provisions of the bill.

26 members of the general public (not representing an organization) support the bill. They submitted written testimony, mostly through short emails.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

● No testimony (written or oral) opposed the entire bill.

Some residents of the Home and others testified about their concerns that the bill eliminated the Home's resident work programs. They stated this change would greatly affect residents' income and disrupt the Home's operations. (addressed by substitute language)

Public hearing testimony said more veterans' representatives were necessary on the DVA Board of Trustees than what was included in the bill. (addressed by substitute language)

Reported by: PRI Staff

Date: 03/30/2015