While Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who have died in service to our country, it naturally also brings to mind our living veterans and our men and women who continue to serve.
As troops continue to return home from overseas military operations, the benefits and care they receive back home is garnering increased attention. Recent studies and news accounts illustrate the massive backlogs and inefficiencies the federal government must remedy when it comes to veterans' care.
Here in Arkansas, we’re addressing our veterans' issues head-on, and have already resolved key issues.
Our Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs is led by Cissy Rucker, a retired Colonel from the Arkansas National Guard who delayed her retirement life to lead the department. After 33 years with the Guard, Rucker has applied her training and experience to confront and resolve problems in caring for our veterans.
In February, our Department of Human Services stopped the Fayetteville Veterans Home from admitting Medicaid and Medicare residents. Multiple incidents had exposed a need for better staff training and a re-examination of policies and procedures. Immediate action was taken at the Home, and earlier this month, the Office of Long Term Care deemed the quality-of-care complaints resolved. Fayetteville is once again accepting Medicaid and Medicare residents, with a staff better equipped to provide the best care possible.
When Cissy took the post, the Arkansas Veterans Home in Little Rock was not only struggling financially, but also falling apart physically. It was going to take $10 million just to get the building back up to code. After only a month as Director, Cissy made the difficult, but necessary decision to close the Home after finding all of its residents new places to live and receive care.
Now, the State is considering a new veterans home for Little Rock. Lawmakers created a task force to study this possibility. The task force will work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine if and when a new home will be built.
We know that the number of veterans in Arkansas has declined over the past 10 years. That number is expected to continue falling. Sadly, we also know that in 2011, there were more than 400 homeless veterans in our State. It is a fate that those who have defended our country should not be forced to face.
We must remember the needs and challenges of men and women returning from duty. Many of our veterans will face short- and long-term illness, injury, and disability. Research will help us better address the needs of military personnel suffering from mental and/or physical injuries.
Be sure to pause and remember those who stood up to fight for America and never returned home. But also keep in your minds and hearts those who have returned and need our support and care. I'm proud of all the progress that Director Rucker and our Department of Veterans Affairs have made over the past year, and I remain deeply grateful to the men and women who have served our country.