Bill: Fix Utah's disorganized approach to helping veterans
Veterans ignorant of or bewildered by an array of services offered by state agencies would have an easier go of it under proposed legislation.
The Senate has approved SB126 and the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday unanimously endorsed the bill. It next goes to the full House, where it likely will pass.
The legislation would create a new veterans' services coordinator position in the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs and mandate that certain state agencies pick an employee to zero in on veterans' issues.
The bill originated in the Veterans Reintegration Task Force, a panel the Legislature created last year, said Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, co-chairman of the task force and SB126 sponsor.
The bill stops short of what the task force suggested in its final report: that all state resources for veterans be consolidated under the department.
But it does mandate that state agencies serving veterans start working better together.
"One of the things we discovered is â¦ there has not been a good line of coordination and communication between the state office (Department of Veterans Affairs) and the agencies that provide services," Knudson told the House committee on Tuesday.
The task force, which the Legislature is likely to renew for a second year, was scathing in its conclusions about poor coordination among state agencies.
"Overall, the conclusion to be drawn is that veterans are a side business for all state agencies but one, the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs," the task force's final report said.
"To a great degree, state agencies provide an uncoordinated approach to supporting veterans, functioning in silos that create inefficiencies resulting in increased tax burdens to the taxpayer."
Under the legislation, the new veterans services coordinator would identify which agencies provide services for veterans, coordinate among them and train the newly appointed veterans affairs specialists spread among state agencies.
The agencies required to appoint veterans specialists would be the departments of Health and Human Services, Public Safety, Workforce Services, Health, the Division of Professional and Occupational Licensing, and all state institutions of higher education.
Each of those agencies would have to post on their websites the contact information for the agency's veterans specialist and the Department of Veterans Affairs' veterans coordinator. Every other agency would have to start directing veterans seeking help to the department.