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News

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.‎

Mental Health:‎

  • 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.‎