After Col. David Brasuell presented the budget request to JFAC this morning for the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, asked about the division’s excess funds, for which Brasuell had outlined an evaluation process the department is working through to determine the best way to spend those for the benefit of veterans. “In the union, a lot of soldiers are coming home and some of them are being accused in the line of duty and facing trials, in which, at least it looks to me, like they’re being judged wrong,” Nuxoll said. She asked if that could be an issue for any Idaho soldiers, and wondered “if that’s an option to save funds for legal defenses.”
Today’s news included a Marine who pleaded guilty yesterday to urinating on the corpse of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan who likely will be demoted one rank under a plea agreement; and reports than an Army staff sergeant who allegedly went on a rampage and killed 16 Afghan civilians in their homes, had suffered a traumatic brain injury during earlier service.
Nuxoll said later that she's received letters in the mail from mothers or wives of active-duty soldiers who they believe have been wrongly accused. "I get a lot of them," she said, though she said she hasn't gotten any from Idaho. "They're not from any particular state."
Brasuell responded, “I don’t know of a program in that area. We do, as I mentioned here, all the veterans’ services.” That includes service officers around the state who assist veterans involved in mental health and drug courts, he noted. “But as far as a fund for legal defense, I don’t know of one.”
Brasuell reported that ongoing excess revenues have occurred because of the division's budget restraint, its lack of control over federal reimbursement rates, and a federal law that prevents Veterans Administration per diem payments from being offset by Medicare or Medicaid. Possibilities currently under study for existing fund balances include establishing a Veterans Endowment Fund; building a fourth veterans home and/or second veterans cemetery; renovating existing veterans homes to cope with an expected increase and changes in the veteran population; and conducting a statewide needs assessment to identify gaps in services. The division also is looking at increasing below-market pay for critical nurses and increasing direct care staffing hours in veterans homes. Only 3.9 percent of the division's budget comes from state general funds, down from 12.8 percent in fiscal year 2003.