Veterans Affairs proposal concerns advocates



The opposition to House Study Bill 270 pushed lawmakers to cancel a public hearing that was set for today. Lawmakers could rewrite the bill, but it's possible that the idea will not be resurrected this year, said Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, who helped write the bill.

The bill would break the department into two major divisions and rename it the Iowa Department of Veterans Services.

One division would be dedicated to veterans home services. The other would be for community-based veteran services. The executive director of the new department would appoint the administrator of each division.

One of the sticking points is the proposed changes to the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, which currently is responsible for the administration of the Iowa veterans home. Under the bill, the new department, not the governor-appointed commission, would be in charge of those duties.

The goal behind the proposed setup would be to make the department more efficient in providing the various services to veterans, Smith said.

Smith said he disagrees with some provisions in the bill that tinker with the role of the commission. He said he believes those would be changed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee if the bill returns for further consideration this year.

"I don't want to change the role of the veterans affairs commission at all," Smith said. "As I understand it, the committee is open to rewriting the bill."

The changes come after last week's shake-up at the Iowa Veterans Home. Gov. Chet Culver said he will not reappoint Dan Steen for a second four-year term as commandant.

Culver made the announcement less than two weeks after The Des Moines Register reported that the facility had stopped using outside doctors to be on duty overnight and on weekends.

Instead, four on-staff doctors handle the nightly needs and are on call from home. They are paid $29.75 an hour to be on call, even though they live at least an hour from the Iowa Veterans Home.

The change had not saved money, according to state records.

The bill, which was introduced last week, was put together hastily during a time of public scrutiny, said Rep. Matt Windschitl, the top-ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Windschitl, of Missouri Valley, said the bill would create the need for more staff, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars more each year.

"You cannot tell me that growing government in that fashion is doing a better service to veterans by costing them more money and taking away the voice of the commission," Windschitl said.

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