Governor announces new bill for veterans

Posted by: Abigail Wood

The room was packed Monday when Governor Pete Ricketts announced a new bill that looks to merge the DHHS Division of Veterans’ Homes and the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 

"What we hope to be able to accomplish is that we create that one stop shop for all of our veterans, so they don’t have to go to two different agencies to get answers," Ricketts explained.

Right now, the more than 140,000 veterans in Nebraska can’t get everything they need in one place.
"They’d go to one place and be referred to another and another," said veteran Thomas Kimmet. "So the veteran was traveling from our area in Bellevue to Omaha to Lincoln to try and find the correct person to get his need or want done."

The bill is looking to fix the problem. Senator John Murante is presenting it to the Nebraska state legislature, calling for the VA to absorb the DHHS Division of Veterans’ Homes, all under the umbrella leadership of the VA’s current director, John Hilgert. Hilgert says he wants the transition to be as smooth as possible.

"No one from the DHHS veterans home division, will have to reapply for their jobs," he said.

This idea has actually been around since 1995, but the VA has only recently been able to prioritize the switch. In Bellevue, the military veterans service center has tried to centralize their services with some real success. For example, they offer disability claims, VA representatives, and work-study options all in the same building, and they say they’ve more then doubled their clientele.
"We’re taken good care of in the military," Kimmet said. "But now we’re taking better care when we get out, when we try to get though our disability benefits and everything like that."

There will also be some general funds savings with the bill, possibly as much as $1.4 million. If the bill passes, the central location in Lincoln would be on the VA campus near 70th and O.