Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Highlights 2021 Successes Impacting State’s Veterans
December 28, 2021
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) are highlighting a number of policies and initiatives that are providing critical support to the state’s 1.5 million Veterans, their families and survivors. FDVA is a 1,500-member constitutionally created State Veterans’ Affairs department responsible for serving the nation’s third largest veteran population. The department operates a network of seven state veterans’ homes and provides outreach to connect Veterans and their families with earned services, benefits and support.
Investment in Veterans:
- Governor Ron DeSantis signed several veteran-friendly bills into law following the 2021 Florida Legislative Session.
- House Bill 435 – Veterans Employment and Training. The legislation creates a statewide awareness and employment program built on the Department of Defense (DOD) SkillBridge Program. The program allows servicemembers to gain workforce training at civilian employers while on active duty as they are transitioning out of the military.
- Senate Bill 922 – Veterans’ Preference in Employment. The legislation waives certain postsecondary educational requirements for employment for eligible servicemembers and Veterans. It allows Veterans who may have requisite job experience, but not necessarily a college degree, to compete for higher level positions.
- House Bill 231 – Services for Veterans and Their Families. Establishes the Florida Veterans’ Care Coordination Program to provide and expand behavioral health care referral and care coordination services for Veterans and their families and to partner with Florida 2-1-1 Network participants to provide such services.
- House Bill 7023 – Veterans Treatment Courts. The legislation creates uniform standards and procedures for Florida’s current and future Veterans Treatment Courts (VTC). It allows a court with criminal jurisdiction to create and administer a VTC, which may adjudicate felonies and misdemeanors.
- Senate Bill 416 – POW-MIA Vietnam Veterans Bracelet Memorial. The bill establishes a POW-MIA Vietnam Veterans Bracelet Memorial across the street from the Old Capitol in Tallahassee, which is now installed next to Florida’s Vietnam War Memorial.
- Amendment 6, which ensures the spouses of older combat veterans with service-connected disabilities retain their earned property tax discount upon the passing of the veteran, took effect Jan. 1, 2021.
- In 2021, FDVA Veterans’ Claims Examiners assisted more than 250,000 Veterans in providing information and counsel on earned services, benefits and support. In addition, claims examiners have processed nearly 29,000 new claims on behalf of Florida Veterans, and helped recover more than $180 million in retroactive benefits for Florida Veterans and their families.
- Governor Ron DeSantis signed proclamations honoring Veterans this year, including for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Vietnam War Veterans Day, Florida Purple Heart Day, Florida Gold Star Family Day, Florida Veteran Suicide Prevention Month, POW/MIA Recognition Day in Florida, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in Florida and Battle of the Bulge Day.
- FDVA printed and distributed 30,000 copies of the 2021 edition of the Florida Veterans’ Benefits Guide, courtesy of a grant from the Florida Veterans Foundation. An interactive online version is also available on the FDVA website at www.FloridaVets.org.
- COVID-19 Vaccinations for Homebound World War II and Korean War Veterans: More than 800 Florida homebound veterans and their spouse caregivers received COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021.
Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, mental health services are getting the attention and funding they need.
- Governor’s Challenge Makes Debut. Known as the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families, the statewide initiative uses evidence-based practices to prevent and reduce suicide attempts. To read more on the Governor’s Challenge, visit www.SaveFLVets.org.
- First Lady Announces Expanded Hope for Healing Website. First Lady Casey DeSantis announced an expanded Hope for Healing website that makes it easier for Floridians to access help for mental health and substance abuse. The new site is an aggregator of federal, state, local, private sector, faith-based and non-profit mental health resources, including those for Veterans.
- The Florida Veterans Support Line, 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838), continued 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.
- The Florida Veterans Foundation partnered with the American Legion of Florida to operate the COVID-19 Project Vet Relief Fund. The fund provides emergency assistance for Veterans who are economically affected by the pandemic.
Career and Job Opportunities:
- Paychecks for Patriots, coordinated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the CareerSource Florida network, connects Veterans and military family members with hundreds of employers throughout the state through a series of career fairs.
- Veterans Florida Expo – More than 300 attendees from around the country explored Florida’s opportunities at the 2021 Veterans Florida Virtual Expo. Part virtual career fair, part resource exhibition, the Veterans Florida Virtual Expo showed Veterans and their families the benefits of working and living in Florida.
- Agriculture – The Veterans Florida Agriculture Program builds the next generation of agriculture leaders. Fourteen Veterans participated in the program in 2021, working alongside leading researchers at UF/IFAS research stations across Florida and receiving hands-on training to compete in Florida’s second largest industry.
- The 77th Anniversary of the GI Bill was June 22. More than 61,000 Floridians currently use GI Bill benefits to further their secondary education.
GI LAW – Lawyers Assisting Warriors:
- Governor Ron DeSantis created the Governor’s Initiative on Lawyers Assisting Warriors (GI LAW) to recruit Florida’s leading law firms to provide pro bono, no cost legal services to Florida’s active duty service members. To date, eight statewide law firms have provided free legal representation to more than 165 service members.
State Veterans’ Homes:
- The FDVA budget signed into law by Governor DeSantis supports the daily operations of Florida’s six state-run veterans’ nursing homes and one assisted living facility, and the addition of two new skilled nursing facilities. The veterans’ homes provide essential services and care to veterans throughout Florida.
- The 120-bed Ardie R. Copas State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Port St. Lucie conducted an Open House and Flag Raising Ceremony on Aug. 27, 2021. Final outfitting is underway with an early 2022 opening anticipated.
- The 112-bed Lake Baldwin State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Orlando is in the final stages of renovations, outfitting and inspections. FDVA anticipates an early 2022 opening.
- The Baldomero Lopez State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Land O’ Lakes and Douglas T. Jacobson State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Port Charlotte received the Governor’s Gold Seal Award. The Gold Seal program was developed and implemented by the Governor’s Panel, recognizing nursing home facilities that demonstrate excellence in long-term care.