Capitol Update: Rep. Ruiz looking to improve nursing home, court services for military veterans

Rep. Susan Ruiz says Kansas could take steps to improve its service to military veterans by expanding access to Veterans Homes and Veteran Treatment Courts.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, Rep. Susan Ruiz and Sen. John Skubal are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Ruiz’s column is below.

Most people think veteran issues are federal, not state, since that is where the VA and funding for other services originates. However, the state of Kansas also provides important services and these services are within the purview of the Kansas House Veterans and Military committee. I appreciate the service of all our veterans, and I’d like to discuss a couple of issues the state of Kansas needs to look at to better serve Kansas veterans.

As the population of Kansas ages, more and more veterans are seeking care at the Veteran Homes in Dodge City and Winfield, Kansas. These homes provide residential care in a residential nursing home or day care type setting. Nationally, these Veteran Homes were authorized by congress after the Civil War when the total number of veterans needing care became overwhelming. In response to this need, some states independently established state veteran homes to care for those in need.

Today, the federal government funds the construction of these Veterans Homes, but they are operated by the individual states. Currently, the two homes in Kansas are not enough to meet the demand of caring for Kansas’ veterans. In comparison, Missouri has seven of these Veterans Homes. This is an issue the House Veteran and Military committee should consider. It is an issue that will not be resolved quickly, but the sooner we start, the sooner we can upgrade access to veteran care in Kansas that’s at least equal to surrounding states.

The other issue important to veterans is improving access to Veteran Treatment Courts in Kansas. These special courts were set up to adjudicate legal issues for veterans diagnosed with PTSD or other disabilities. Often, veterans with PTSD run afoul of the law, but with proper treatment, they can avoid lengthy incarceration and has adverse effects on the veteran’s life. The Veterans Treatment Court is almost always a win-win situation. Veterans get the help they need and taxpayers see violations addressed in a timely and effective manner.

Unfortunately, there is only one Veterans Treatment Court in Kansas and it is located in Johnson County. This is good for our local veterans, but in other parts of the state, particularly in sparsely populated areas, veterans are unable to access these services. Those veterans often end up with long and expensive legal battles that do not serve the individual or the state. A better way to serve veterans and society would be to set up more of these courts to cover all areas of the state, or find a path to expand services so veterans are treated equally from Goodland to Gardner.

I remain dedicated to finding the best ways to serve the veterans of Kansas. If you see a veteran today, thank them for serving. If you want to talk with me about these or other issues, I can be reached by email at susan.ruiz@house.ks.gov or you can call me at (785) 296-7482. It is an honor and a pleasure to serve you. Always.