Sacramento, CA–The California Department of Veterans Affairs received an Abraham Lincoln Pillar of Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its Justice Involved Veterans Initiative.
CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD accepted the award from VA Secretary Denis McDonough during the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) Midwinter Conference (February 21-23) in Alexandria, Virginia.
“It is a great honor to accept this award on behalf of CalVet,” Secretary Imbasciani said. “It reflects the depth of our agency and our commitment to all of California’s veterans, regardless of what they have experienced since they separated from the military. They earned their benefits by virtue of their service.”
Of California’s 1.6 million veterans, roughly 5,000 are incarcerated. The Justice Involved Veterans Initiative works to ensure that veterans, from their time of detainment until release, are able to obtain their earned benefits. It also provides support upon their release and reentry into post-incarceration life.
Created in 2012 with just two employees to aid incarcerated veterans statewide, the program received an infusion of support in 2017 when Governor Jerry Brown’s Fiscal Year 2016-17 Budget provided CalVet the necessary funding to hire seven certified Veteran Service Representatives to provide direct claims assistance to incarcerated veterans. The program’s success has been significant, with only 164 claims for disability compensation filed in 2012-2013 to now more than 700 claims filed in each of the past three years.
“Veterans face significant barriers to applying for and obtaining their veterans’ benefits once they are incarcerated. These vital benefits represent critical support for a veteran’s family while incarcerated and help to support a successful transition once released. Our goal is that by extending our services into the justice system, we can assist veterans in their rehabilitation process and reduce recidivism,” said Keith Boylan, Deputy Secretary for the Veterans Services Division, which houses the program.
CalVet employees work closely with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), County Veterans Services Officers, CalVet’s own Local Interagency Network Coordinators, and other partners to enable incarcerated veterans to file claims, to receive examinations for VA disability ratings, and to defer benefits to family members, as well as prepare for life after prison.
“Each month, the CDCR provides a list of every veteran who is 180 days from release,” said Roberto Herrera, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Veterans Services Division. “We connect with the veteran and initiate case management services. This includes claims assistance, introduction to their local community-based system of care, and most important, assures the veteran that CalVet will be there to help when they are released.”
This year marks the fifth time CalVet has earned an Abraham Lincoln Pillar of Excellence Award. It won twice in 2016 for its Women Veterans Outreach program and for its Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention program (VHHP), which works with communities, developers, and other stakeholders to build permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless veterans, those at risk of becoming homeless, and extremely low-income veterans and their families.
In 2018, California’s Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) program won the award. In partnership with the Department of General Services, CalVet strives to ensure at least 3% of all state contracting dollars are awarded to DVBEs. On average, these efforts result in $350 million contracting dollars awarded to disabled veteran-owned businesses.
CalVet also won in 2019 for its California Transition Assistance Program (CalTAP), a first-of-its-kind, a state-specific transition program that informs and connects service members, veterans of all eras, and their families to their earned federal, state, and local benefits. The program also provides continued support and assistance to veterans and their families as their needs change over time.
The Pillar of Excellence awards was created jointly by the NASDVA and VA in 2012 to recognize state-implemented best practices that other states could use as a benchmark.