2016: A look back

As we close out calendar year 2016, West Virginia is preparing for a new chapter of history to be written. We are saying goodbye to an honorable man, Earl Ray Tomblin, who has faithfully and responsibly served our state for four decades as both governor and West Virginia Senate president.

We are now welcoming in a new administration, led by a highly successful and respected businessman, Jim Justice, who will be our new governor.

The West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance (WVDVA) is also in transition. We have just completed an enormously successful year, and the WVDVA will no doubt build on the momentum of 2016 by continuing to recognize, help and work in tandem with veterans across the state to raise awareness and opportunities for the state’s 175,000-member community of former military men and women.

Early in the year, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill that will bring in millions of dollars during coming years. The legislation, which has been in work for many years, was informally called the “fireworks bill.” It allows the sale of Class C fireworks in West Virginia, and three-fourths of the State’s proceeds from the sale of fireworks will be dedicated to veterans’ facilities. Specifically, the money is earmarked toward construction of a new veterans’ nursing facility, which is to be built in Southern West Virginia.

The new law allowing the sale of fireworks became effective in July and has so far brought in more than $700,000.

Another high-profile project that the WVDVA began in 2016 is Mountain State 22, a program designed to tackle the horrible nationwide and statewide problem we have of suicide among veterans. Mountain State 22 is the country’s only State-operated suicide prevention program that specifically targets saving the lives of veterans.

Mountain State 22 is geared toward helping individual communities set up their own veteran-led, suicide-prevention initiatives. Mountain State 22 seeks to, first, find the veterans within specific geographic regions and, second, set up a network of counselors and responders that will be available to at-risk veterans. One premise behind the development of Mountain State 22 is the idea that an at-risk veteran will most effectively relate to and confide in another veteran.

Three West Virginia communities – Martinsburg, Clarksburg and Ripley – have begun local suicide-prevention programs. We anticipate that several more communities will start programs in 2017.

A third area of concentration in 2016 was the further development of West Virginia Veterans to Agriculture. The WVDVA, in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, is developing several individual programs designed to help state veterans start small businesses through organic farming. More than 200 veterans are already involved in Veterans to Agriculture programs.

While starting new programs is important, nothing is more critical to our state’s veterans than the core work that the WVDVA performs through our 17 field and claims offices. Our veterans service officers are responsible for helping West Virginia veterans who seek both benefits and claims with the federal government.

Our officers have helped veterans receive hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits and claims. Often, our veterans are not aware of benefits that are available to them and, without the help of our WVDVA veterans service officers, would not receive the assistance they need.

I would like to close by saying that it is an honor to serve the veterans of our state. At the WVDVA, we are thankful for a successful 2016 and look forward to a tremendous 2017.

Contact Information

Randy Coleman