Governor DeSantis and FDVA Executive Director Burgess Highlight Historic First Year in Office to Support Veterans
December 26, 2019
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis and officials from the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) are pointing to a string of policies and initiatives that are providing critical support to the state’s 1.5 million veterans.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said: “It’s been a fast-paced and meaningful first year. As a Navy veteran who served in Iraq, our state’s 1.5 million veterans will always have my unwavering support, along with all Floridians. With FDVA Executive Director Danny Burgess’ leadership, we will continue to ensure that veterans and their families in our great state have access to meaningful benefits, support and mental health services.”
First Lady Casey DeSantis said: “We are working with Florida’s veteran community to help connect them with vital mental health counseling and services. It’s a long-term partnership that I’m pleased to have the support and engagement from FDVA Executive Director Danny Burgess. We are a military family and take great pride in honoring veterans when we travel the Sunshine State.”
Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Danny Burgess said: “I’m proud of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, our Cabinet and legislature in supporting FDVA and the 1.5 million veterans of our state. The Sunshine State offers unique benefits such as in-state tuition rates for veterans and their families using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, several layers of property tax exemptions, expanded veterans’ preference, and extensive benefits, licensure and fee waivers for many activities and occupations. Together, we will continue to ensure Florida leads the charge as the most veteran-friendly state in the nation.”
Forward March Initiative:
- On March 29, Governor DeSantis and FDVA announced Forward March, an initiative which aims to unite the combined energy and resources of Florida’s state agencies, veterans’ service organizations, private partners and local communities. Forward March is the start of an ongoing effort to determine best practices and ensure the state of Florida sets the national standard for veteran services and support.
- The initiative kicked off at the University of South Florida, with regional meetings held during the summer of 2019 in Pensacola, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Ocala, Miami, Port Canaveral and Sarasota. Participants engaged in a series of breakout sessions focusing on topics such as Community Services, Mental Health and Wellness, Benefits and Assistance, Transition and Legal Services and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. With the feedback gathered from the regional meetings, FDVA is identifying where Florida needs to reinforce best practices, reduce redundancies and implement solutions to fill gaps.
GI LAW – Lawyers Assisting Warriors:
- On April 18, Governor DeSantis announced the Governor’s Initiative on Lawyers Assisting Warriors (GI LAW), an initiative to leverage the talent of Florida’s leading law firms to provide pro bono services to military members. Florida’s men and women in uniform will receive free legal counsel in a variety of civil manners, including actions in local courts.
- GI LAW began accepting pro bono legal services requests from active duty service members in May 2019, and to date, seven statewide law firms have provided free legal representation to more than 60 service members.
- On June 26, Governor DeSantis signed CS/CS/HB 501: Alternative Treatment Options for Veterans. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mel Ponder and Sen. Tom Wright, creates a $200,000 pilot program focused on treating post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries in veterans using alternative therapies. It expands available therapies for eligible veterans to include accelerated resolution therapy, equine therapy, music therapy, service animal training therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy at registered facilities.
- On Aug. 20, FDVA Executive Director Danny Burgess met with First Lady Casey DeSantis in Tampa to discuss suicide prevention and enhancing care coordination to veterans and military families. FDVA then partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VISN 8) and Crisis Center of Tampa Bay to highlight the state’s veteran suicide prevention efforts during Florida Veteran Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 8-14. A joint editorial was released statewide by FDVA Executive Director Burgess, VISN 8 Network Director Dr. Miguel H. LaPuz and Clara Reynolds, President and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
- The Florida Veterans Support Line, 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838), continues to provide confidential emotional support and connection to community resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The line, supported by FDVA and its suicide prevention partners, is available to all veterans in Florida.
- On Aug. 26, Governor DeSantis joined the Cohen Veterans Network to celebrate the opening of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Aspire Health Partners. The clinic will provide additional support to Florida veterans who are suffering from mental health and post-traumatic stress issues, so they can live purposeful lives despite their critical wounds.
- On Veterans Day, Governor DeSantis and FDVA Executive Director Burgess joined Lee Health, the largest healthcare system in Southwest Florida, and Home Base Southwest Florida, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program, to announce a partnership offering mental health services for veterans and military families who call Southwest Florida home – at no cost.
Career and Job Opportunities:
- Governor DeSantis announced that CareerSource Central Florida, CareerSource Flagler Volusia and CareerSource Polk were being awarded Veterans’ Performance Incentive Awards for their diligent work of providing employment and training opportunities to thousands of veterans.
- Governor DeSantis announced the launch of a new military-friendly travel section on VISIT FLORIDA’s website, www.visitflorida.com/military. The site includes information about discounts and experiences available to military members and their families, monuments and memorials, military-related events, museums and more.
- $1,500,000 was awarded to Veterans Florida following the 2019 Legislative Session to meet the duties and responsibilities established by the legislature for the Veterans Entrepreneur and Training Services (VETS) Business Training Grants Program. $1,000,000 was also awarded to Veterans Florida for the Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS) Entrepreneurship Program.
- The 75th Anniversary of the GI Bill was June 22. More than 46,000 Floridians currently use GI Bill benefits to further their secondary education.
Investment in Veterans:
- On June 26, Governor DeSantis signed CS/CS/HB 427: Honor and Remember Flag. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Gregory and Sen. Joe Gruters, allows the flying of the Honor and Remember Flag to serve as the state’s emblem of the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives in the line of duty.
- Veterans in East Pasco County will soon have access to a brand new 14,000 square foot VA clinic, replacing the existing 4,500 square foot community based outpatient clinic (CBOC). A ground breaking ceremony took place in Zephyrhills on June 7.
- Governor DeSantis joined the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Nov. 22 for the groundbreaking ceremony of a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic located in St. Augustine. The Governor was joined by FDVA Executive Director Danny Burgess.
- Governor DeSantis and Executive Director Burgess attended the 2nd Annual 50th Anniversary Lapel Pinning Ceremony hosted by Collier-Lee Honor Flight to honor Vietnam veterans. During the event, 50th Anniversary Pins authorized by the U.S. Congress were distributed.
- Governor DeSantis and First Lady DeSantis dedicated the Purple Heart Memorial at Tallahassee National Cemetery, Aug. 7.
- Governor DeSantis announced Sept. 9 the selection of Henry “Hank” James Thomas to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. Thomas, of Jacksonville, served in the U.S. Army from 1963-1966 where he earned six combat medals, including the Purple Heart. He was active in the civil rights movement and one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders, as well as a committed Freedom Fighter.
- Governor DeSantis joined the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to announce that Florida has been designated an Age-Friendly State, making Florida the fourth state in the nation to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. The Sunshine State has more than 789,000 veterans 65 years of age or older.
- FDVA printed and distributed 200,000 copies of the 2019 edition of the Florida Veterans’ Benefits Guide, courtesy of a grant from the Florida Veterans Foundation. To connect with veterans renewing their driver license, the guides have for the first time been distributed to Tax Collectors Offices and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
State Veterans’ Homes:
- The FDVA budget resulting from the 2019 Florida Legislative Session was signed into law by Governor DeSantis and supports the daily operations of Florida’s six state-run veterans’ nursing homes and one assisted living facility. The facilities provide essential services and care to veterans throughout Florida.
- The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) recognized four state veterans’ homes for earning a 2019 Silver – Achievement in Quality Award from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. They are the Alexander Nininger State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Pembroke Pines, Baldomero Lopez State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Land O’ Lakes, Emory L. Bennett State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Daytona Beach and Robert H. Jenkins Jr. Veterans’ Domiciliary Home in Lake City.
- Barbara Klein, a health care professional at the Douglas T. Jacobson State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Port Charlotte, was named the FHCA 2019 Long Term Care Rising Star in Nursing Award winner.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Bolder, Brighter, Better Future Budget:
- The governor’s proposed budget for FY 2020-2021 invests $18.2 million for the completion of the Ardie R. Copas State Veterans’ Nursing Home in St. Lucie County and the Lake Baldwin State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Orange County. The budget also invests $6.1 million for 48 positions to complete the required staffing necessary for the Ardie R. Copas State Veterans’ Nursing Home and $12.1 million for 40 positions to complete the required staffing and repairs necessary for the Lake Baldwin State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Orange County.
- Additionally, the budget recommends $6.7 million for capital improvements, equipment updates and 16 additional nursing staff for Florida’s existing state veterans’ nursing homes.