This year the Iowa Legislature took several steps to help Iowa’s veterans.
Following up a bill from last year that set mandatory hours for county veterans services offices, House File 283 took a few more actions to help make it better. It broadened the scope of the use of appropriated money that was originally supposed to pay for a county service office director’s salary. The $10,000 per year that the counties get can now be used to provide better assistance to veterans by helping keep offices open the required hours, providing for training of staff, etc. The bill set a requirement that the county office be open a certain number or hours and enforces that by requiring that the appropriate money revert back to the Department of Veterans Affairs if they do not follow those requirements.
The House also expanded the definition of a veteran to help ease confusion for Iowa’s veterans. House File 503 changed the definition of a veteran to include those who served on active duty during periods between the current code defined “War Windows” definition of a veteran. Legislators recognized that, while a veteran may not have served during a federally defined period of war, they were ready at a moment’s notice to serve our state and our country. This new codified definition enables all veterans, whether they served in peacetime or during war, to receive service at their county veterans services office where they may be identified as eligible for federal veterans benefits they may otherwise not have been receiving.
Iowa Veteran’s Home residents also received some protections this year. With the help of the Veteran’s Home staff, legislators identified and took steps to correct some potential issues for the home in Marshalltown.
House File 505 provides that volunteers at the Iowa Veterans Home who would have one-on-one contact with the residents receive a background check before being able to volunteer. This protects the veterans from being put in compromising situations with potential predators. The volunteers will have their backgrounds checked by the Department of Public Safety, but it won’t be intrusive enough, or a prolonged enough process to prevent someone from volunteering. This will encourage a healthier and safer environment that the resident veterans and their families can appreciate at an already fantastic facility.
Along with that protection, residents of the Veterans Home were also brought to the table with Veteran’s Home staff to figure out a safe and fair process for discharging problem residents. Senate File 407 expands the authority of the Iowa Veterans Home to discharge residents who may be endangering themselves and other residents. Dischargeable offenses would include, among others:
- Continued abuse of alcohol and/or illegal drugs in violation of the member’s admission agreement;
- refusal to utilize the resources available to address issues identified in the member’s collaborative care plan;
- medical or life skills needs have been met to the extent possible through the services provided by the Iowa Veterans Home and the member no longer requires a residential or nursing level of care.
The bill provides enough safeguards to ensure that the resident is given a fair process. They must commit three offenses before being discharged and the resident is given two appeal options and ample notification before being discharged. And finally, if a discharge occurs, the Veterans Home staff will work as hard as possible to place the resident in an appropriate and safe environment.
And providing benefits to veterans who are not residents of the veterans home was addressed as well. Senate File 440 requires that health care facilities provide veterans with medication they receive through their federal veterans benefits, which was not always happening. It also requires the health care facility to work with the department of veterans affairs to identify veterans eligible for federal benefits and requires the department of inspections and appeals, the department of veterans affairs, and the department of human to identify any barriers to residents in accessing such prescription drug benefits.
House Republicans supported all of these bills as they made their way through the process to becoming law.