Bill would consolidate veterans’ services

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony Feb. 15 on a bill that would consolidate veterans’ services in Nebraska.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist49' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John Murante'>Sen. John Murante</a>
Sen. John Murante

LB340, introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante on behalf of the governor, would transfer all programs, services and duties of the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Division of Veterans’ Homes to the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs, effective July 1, 2017.

The bill also would create the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Cash Fund to receive all money paid to the state by members of the Nebraska veterans’ homes. Division employees would be considered employees of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs after the transition and retain their rights and service under the state personnel system.

Murante said the transfer would increase service efficiency and result in better care at the state’s four veterans’ homes, which provide skilled care and assisted living services. DHHS is a large organization with diverse goals and priorities, he said, while the department focuses only on veterans’ issues.

“[This bill] works toward our shared goal of continuing to find ways to better serve Nebraska veterans,” Murante said.

John Hilgert, director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs — who also serves as the director of the Division of Veterans’ Homes at DHHS — testified in support of the measure. The transfer would bring 37 operational staff members to the department, he said, which would result in more efficient handling of purchasing, payroll and other administrative duties.

This would allow existing department team members to be more responsive and consider additional services and activities for the state’s veterans, Hilgert said.

“Our mission as state employees is to create an opportunity for more effective and more efficient customer-focused state government,” he said.

Greg Holloway, a member of the Nebraska Veterans’ Home Board, also testified in support of the bill. Management of the homes was moved to DHHS in the 1990s due to a restructuring, he said, and should be returned to the department, which manages all other veterans’ issues in the state.

“The time is right to move this back into the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” Holloway said. “We have the leadership. We have the organizational capability.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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