By: Frank McCurdy, NEC
Today is June 28th, 2016. The annual American Legion, Department of Colorado Convention is now history. Jay Bowen was elected Department Commander. Jay will need everyone’s support in a very challenging 2016/2017. Jay’s main focus will be raising political capital, our membership.
The veteran community will be facing difficult budgetary issues and structural changes in the VA. Access is a scheduling issue; however, if VA does not employ adequate numbers of doctors and nurses, access will continue to be a problem. There are powerful forces whose goal is to privatize the VA.
If the American Legion, in concert with major Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), stick together, the veteran community will overcome efforts to privatize the VA. That does not mean our VSOs do not recognize the need to implement VA changes to improve access to quality healthcare.
On the local level, I can report our new VA medical center is 70% complete and the VA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Kiewit Turner are really cooperating. Real progress is now the normal. Legislatively, this Colorado Session has been very successful.
First, we have assured the future of Fort Logan by facilitating an agreement between the Colorado State Department of Human Services and the VA Cemetery Administration to purchase an additional 15 acres of State land adjacent to Fort Logan. We also have options to purchase up to 50 total acres extending the life of Fort Logan an additional 50 years. Another achievement was the bill to expand the Fitzsimmons Community Living Center (CLC).
The bill authorizes the State Department of Human Services to develop plans and to devise an acceptable financing mechanism. This effort will complete the project on the existing vacant 10 acres.
The next largest opportunity to help Colorado veterans is now being decided. The veteran community is now associated with a campaign called the “Healthy Colorado Campaign.” This effort increases taxes on tobacco products. The tax revenues generated will provide somewhere between 28 and $46 million to fund state veterans programs. The objective is to provide services that the VA does not cover.
The VSOs that are participating will petition onto the ballot with 98,420 valid signatures. This part of the process must be completed by August 8th. The polling data is very promising for passage. At the present time, the Department of Colorado, American Legion, has by vote of the Department Executive Committee to take a neutral position. That means to neither support nor oppose the initiative 143. I personally believe it is the best interest of the American Legion to participate.