Federal coordination will aid regional outreach to King County’s 127,000 veterans and military personnel
U.S. Senator Patty Murray today praised King County Executive Dow Constantine's new regional initiative to connect military veterans and their families to the benefits they've earned, and pledged to encourage federal agencies to join the outreach effort.
"Our newly-returning veterans, and those who've served our nation in the past, deserve every effort on our part to welcome them home and to connect them with the opportunities and the services they have earned," said Executive Constantine, after meeting with Washington's two U.S Senators in a visit to Washington, D.C. "As regional leaders we are in a position to supply those connections. I appreciate the partnership of Senator Murray, who has been a stalwart champion for veterans and their families many times over."
"For our nation's heroes, the road home isn't always smooth, the red tape is often long, and the transition from the battlefield is never easy," said Senator Murray. "We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve, and with so much on the line keeping this promise is non-negotiable. We are once again at that defining moment in how we treat our veterans and it's one that we can only deliver on if we strategically work together across all levels of government. That's why I applaud Executive Constantine's recent announcement to bring together King County stakeholders from both the private and public sector to ensure seamless coordination for our men and women who have heroically served our nation."
King County is home to an estimated 127,000 veterans and military personnel – more than the entire population of Bellevue – and a range of programs and services are available to help veterans and families in need – but uneven coordination across federal, state, local, and nonprofit systems can mean veterans often aren’t connected to those programs and services. Four of every ten veterans say they have little or no understanding of their benefits or how to access them.
The Executive's Regional Veterans Initiative will bring together the funders, service providers, veterans organizations and other stakeholders to develop action steps aimed at increasing knowledge of those benefits, facilitating access to those services, and improving coordination across service systems.
"Far too many of the men and women who have served their country in the armed services have 'fallen through the cracks,'" said King County Council Chair Larry Gossett. "The effort to connect them and their families to the programs that have earned is a step in the right direction for these heroes."
"The large veterans population in Washington makes us one of the top states in the nation for the number of residents who have served in the military," said King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert. "It is important that we honor veterans for their service and respond to their unique needs. Many new and existing programs at the local, state, and national level are working to help veterans transition and thrive, and we look forward to working with the Executive on this regional coordination effort."
"It's very sad the veterans who willingly risked their lives for our freedom are not fully informed of the benefits they have more than earned. I am pleased to work with Executive Constantine to ensure our men and women in uniform are fully informed of what they very much deserve," said King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, the only Armed Services veteran on the County Council.
In his 2013 State of the County Address last week, the Executive named three accomplished local veterans to act as his special advisors for the initial planning: former U.S. Army Vice-Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli (ret.); Col. Grethe Cammermeyer (ret.), former Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard; and Leo Flor, a former Army Infantry Officer and local veterans advocate.
The advisors will work with the Executive and staff of the Department of Community and Human Services to reach out to regional leaders in the veterans' community to identify needs, gaps, and opportunities for policy, planning, and resource collaboration. They will also work with members of the two current volunteer boards – the King County Veterans Program Advisory Board and the King County Veterans Citizen Levy Oversight Board – to gather input from veterans and family members.
A key component of the initiative is exploring the creation of a Veterans Coordinating Council to be comprised of the core stakeholders involved in funding services for veterans and their families. This council could help provide regional leadership for cross-system collaboration and resource coordination across all levels of government and with local service organizations.
The advisors will forward their recommendations and a King County Regional Veterans Initiative Action Plan to the County Executive and the County Council in June 2013.