Activity Report, first month in FDVA
To Eric Eikenberg, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor:
Eric, Sorry I had to cancel my meeting with you Tuesday. I thought it was vital for me to join the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA), the Hon. James Nicholson. He was in Orlando to select a site for the first new VA hospital in the Nation since 1995. It gave me some valuable time with him. My principal message was: his staff says any new nursing home in Florida (65% is funded by the USDVA) must be redesigned for all single-occupancy rooms.
I said we think the additional privacy is misplaced emphasis and far too expensive. Our six State Veterans Homes have been highly acceptable to the residents. Also, we think two-per-room enhances Veteran camaraderie and maximizes mutual security. He agreed, and cited his 98 yr-old mother-in-law's affection for her roommate in a private nursing home. Next, he queried the senior construction expert on his staff (who was present); there we learned the Medicare/Medicaid organization started this privacy initiative in the recent past, so maybe the USDVA should follow suit. Given the scarcity of funding for Veterans' Nursing Homes during FY-07 and -O8, I urged Secretary Nicholson to rethink such an expensive new VA "requirement."
Today, I have been in my new job with the FDVA for 5 weeks. I have learned much, but my overriding impression is that my people are genuinely devoted to the 1.8 million Veterans in Florida. To date I have met most of the 600 people in my Department. 80% of the staff and 80% of my funding are earmarked to six Veterans homes, i.e. Springfield, Lake City, Land O'Lakes, Port Charlotte, Pembroke Pines, and Daytona. I have met the leaders of many of the State's largest Veterans groups; their memberships aggregate 400,000 of Florida's 1.8 million Veterans. California has more Veterans now, but Florida will be the largest by 2020. Dr. Wm Oldson, who heads up the WWII Institute @ FSU, wants us to canvass our WWII vets for war stories before it's too late.
I have met leaders of the five major Florida House and Senate Veterans Committees, plus the principals in the Governor's Office of Policy and Budget. I have attended the orientation and participated in the early FEB disaster drill in the State's Emergency Operations Center. Last week I attended the semi-annual meeting of my DVA counterparts from other states, held in WASHDC area, which enabled me to first meet the Secretary of the USDVA (I had dinner with the Under Secretary, Admiral Cooper, whom I knew from submarine service); next... Members of Congress on the Veterans Committees of the House and Senate (e.g. Reps Corrine Brown, Jeff Miller, and Ginny Brown-Waite). Our group was addressed by the Chairmen of both Veterans Committees (Sen Akaka D-HI, and Rep Filner D-CA). The competition between Federal entitlement programs is fierce; we must get smarter.
A private group titled Commission on the Future for America's Veterans has been formed. Its first town hall meeting was addressed by the Governor of West Virginia last month in Charleston WV. Next month they will meet in Tampa at the Moffitt Cancer Center during 14-15 MAR, and would like Governor Crist to address their Florida town hall meeting the evening of 14 MAR.
Finally, I am searching for additional revenues for the FDVA. While we get some from military/veteran-oriented Florida license tag sales, I discovered there are lucrative services in other states (one state has a bank!). I am an entrepreneur, so I shall bring new ideas to you soon. Like the Governor said Wednesday, we have seen a fast start.
LeRoy Collins, Jr.