Tampa Bay area lawmakers have filed a slew of state appropriations requests targeting veterans’ mental and physical health, from county facility upgrades to pro-bono legal services, and totaling millions of dollars.
Rep. Dianne Hart, a Tampa Democrat, has filed a $1.65 million appropriation request for phase II of the expansion of Hillsborough County’s Veteran Resource Center.
That money would fund a 4,621-square-foot expansion facility, which would include about 3,800 square feet of open floor gallery space and 800 square feet for an office, data room, electrical room and a storage room, according to the request.
The original center opened on Dec. 7, 2017, in honor of Pearl Harbor. The facility cost $1.9 million from state and county-funding and sits on the grounds of the county’s Veterans Memorial Park and Museum.
Phase II of the resource center will be an adjoined facility, which provides holistic services to veterans and their families. Services include county veteran service officers, county consumer protection investigators, a Florida Department of Veterans Affairs claims examiner and Federal VA Medical Center James Haley health care enrollment specialists. It is a request for non-recurring funds.
Rep. Andrew Learned, a Brandon Democrat, filed a $2 million appropriations request for a regional adaptive sports training center under the Veteran’s Stride Foundation. The facility would establish an adaptive sports training center “to provide wounded veterans wrap-around rehabilitation services in a healthcare setting designed to speed recovery and encourage reintegration,” according to the request.
The center is expected to cost $5.5 million, with additional funding already guaranteed by the state ($2 million) and local government ($1.75 million).
The facilities would provide veterans with diagnosis and evaluation, including the use of virtual reality equipment to help with loss of limb training for those with new prosthetic and orthotics devices to participate and qualify to compete in adaptive sports competitions. In addition to serving local veterans, the center could serve as a regional training center for disabled persons to train and participate in events to prepare for adaptive sports competition, the request states.
Learned, a veteran himself, also filed a $250,000 appropriations request for Tampa Bay Wave’s Veteran’s Tech-Enabled Startups Job Creation Accelerator. The program provides veterans with classes and programming, digital support for marketing and pitching, curated meetings with investors, mentors and coaches and continued support.
Another appropriations request, filed by Rep. Traci Koster, a Pinellas County Republican, seeks $750,000 for the Florida Veterans Legal Helpline, through which lawyers provide direct advice and assistance to low-income veterans over the phone, schedule appointments for extended services with full-time lawyers who focus solely on veterans and coordinate referrals to partners throughout the state.
The funding would be directed to Bay Area Legal Services, according to the request, but would serve veterans statewide.
“This FVLH will provide access to services for a population that would otherwise not have access to legal advice and representation,” the request states.
The program received $500,000 last year and expects to need more funding in the coming years, according to the request. The program does receive $127,593 worth of other funding.
Hillsborough County Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell filed a $500,000 appropriations request for Shield of Faith Missions, which works to prevent suicide among at-risk veterans by providing wholistic health care services.
“Our goal is to build resiliency in veterans that has a positive and lasting effect on their life, family and community,” the appropriations request states. “We aim for each veteran to show an improvement in their overall psychological, physical, spiritual and social health.”
The organization hopes to host 12 BeResilient clinics in 2022, which will provide care to more than 240 veterans. It received $150,000 from a state appropriations request last year, and another funding source has guaranteed $1,788,714 for this upcoming year.
Pasco County Republican Rep. Ardian Zika filed a $485,00 appropriations request for the Veterans Intervention Program under BayCare Behavioral Health.
The request, which was also approved last year for the same amount, seeks to meet unmet behavioral health needs of veterans and their families. The program includes personalized and specialized outreach, information and referral services, peer navigation, and behavioral health services, including the availability of telehealth.
The program helps hundreds of bay area veterans and has a low recidivism rate — 90% of veterans and/or family members are not readmitted to detoxification within 30 days of discharge, according to the request.