Executive Constantine vows to help veterans connect with benefits in 2013

Also addresses gun violence, energy, health care in 2013 State of the County address

As part of King County Executive Dow Constantine's State of the County address on Feb. 4, the local leader presented a plan to "connect military veterans and their families to benefits they've earned," in addition to speaking on gun violence, renewable energy and health care reform.

The full 2013 State of the County address is now available online.

Here are the details from Constantine's office:

Three local veterans named as special advisors for outreach planning

Four of every ten veterans say they have little or no understanding of their benefits or how to access them. Increasing knowledge of those benefits, facilitating access to those services, and improving coordination across service systems are the goals of a new Regional Veterans Initiative unveiled today by King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“Uneven coordination across federal, state, local and nonprofit systems means vets often aren’t connected to the services they need – and have earned,” said Executive Constantine, as part of his 2013 State of the County address. “As regional leaders we are in a position to supply those connections.”

King County is home to an estimated 127,000 veterans and military personnel, and a range of programs and services are available to help veterans and families in need.

To better connect veterans and their families living in King County to those services, the Regional Veterans Initiative will bring together the funders, service providers, veterans organizations and other stakeholders to develop action steps.

The Executive named three accomplished local veterans to act as his special advisors for the initial planning:

• General Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army (retired), former U.S. Army Vice-Chief of Staff.

• Col. Grethe Cammermeyer (retired), former Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard.

• Leo Flor, a former Army Infantry Officer and local veterans advocate.

The advisors will work with the Executive and staff of the Department of Community and Human Services to reach out to regional leaders in the veterans’ community to identify needs, gaps, and opportunities for policy, planning and resource collaboration. They will also work with members of the two current volunteer boards – the King County Veterans Program Advisory Board and the King County Veterans Citizen Levy Oversight Board – to gather input from veterans and family members.

A key component of the initiative is exploring the creation of a Veterans Coordinating Council to be comprised of the core stakeholders involved in funding services for veterans and their families. This council could help provide regional leadership for cross-system collaboration and resource coordination across all levels of government and with local service organizations.

The advisors will forward their recommendations and a King County Regional Veterans Initiative Action Plan to the County Executive and the County Council in June 2013.

Addressing gun violence
Another major element of Constantine’s 2013 State of the County address included signing a executive order directing Seattle and King County Public Health to “develop innovative, data-driven local strategies for preventing gun violence in King County,” according to a press release.

“Gun violence is a public safety crisis. It is also a public health crisis. Locally, we can approach gun violence as a preventable public health problem,” Constantine said during the address. “State and federal law pre-empt our ability to regulate firearms, but that should not stop us from thinking innovatively about what we can do within our own authority.”

Constantine charged Public Health with answering the following questions through data analysis:

“Who is being harmed by guns?”

“Demographically, who owns guns and how do they use and handle them?”

“Who sells guns and what can sellers do to encourage responsible gun ownership?”

“Once we understand the underlying causes of gun violence in King County, we can develop real-world solutions to prevent real-life tragedies,” Constantine said. “Now is the time.”

A focus on renewable energy
Constantine, in his 2013 State of the County address, also congratulated the county on their goal of getting half of their energy from renewable sources.

“King County has surpassed its ambitious goal of filling more than half of our energy needs with renewable energy,” he said. “We’ve done so through innovations like capturing methane gas at our Cedar Hills landfill and wastewater plants. Moreover, we’re cutting our energy needs – saving our planet, and saving the public more than $2 million a year.”

The goal was set in King County’s 2010 Energy Plan. At that time, the county was getting only 14.6 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

In addition to capturing methane gas, Constantine said the county captures digester gas from the South wastewater treatment plant, “scubs” it, and sends it to local pipelines for use as natural gas. The digester gas is also used to power boilers and raw sewage pumps at county treatment plants.

The list goes on. According to King County, other measures leading to 50 percent renewable energy included the following:
• “ Captured more than $1 million per year of savings by converting the Courthouse and King County Correctional Facility from steam to natural gas.
• Established a Community Solar Program that offers community partners the chance to lease County sites at low cost, install solar projects and receive financial incentives from State of Washington.
• Begun soliciting partners to develop a system to harness the unused thermal energy in wastewater pipelines to bring power, heat and cooling to commercial buildings.
• Joined local dairy farmers in Enumclaw to develop a digester project that will transform cow manure into green energy and other valuable resources.
• Issued bonds for more than $6 million of low-interest Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBS) to finance county energy conservation projects.
• Deployed 20 all-electric vehicles into its Rideshare Vanpool and Vanshare programs, and assigned 5 all-electric vehicles to King County offices and the Motorpool Dispatch service.
• Installed 32 electric vehicle charging stations in 2012, increasing its total number of County-installed charging stations to 45.
• Developed a Green Community Initiative designed to help community groups, nonprofit organizations and businesses find easier access to low-interest financing for projects that conserve energy, water, and promote environmental sustainability.
• Launched an employee education program to educate and offer resources to help improve energy efficiency throughout the County.
• Supported energy conservation and noise reduction in adjacent residential communities via the Airport’s Home Insulation Program. The County has retrofitted 313 homes that are saving 6.331 billion BTUs annually and homeowners an average of more than $250 in energy costs every year.”

Connect the uninsured with affordable health care
As part of national healthcare reform, Executive Constantine also began an initiative to connect 180,000 uninsured King County residents with affordable health care.

“Our goal is nothing less than the full enrollment of those uninsured who will become eligible for healthcare insurance next year,” said Executive Constantine, as part of his 2013 State of the County Address. “Together we will create a ‘culture of coverage’ in King County.”

The county said in 2014 180,000 people “will become eligible for subsidized health insurance or Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and may not know it.”

Constantine plans to create a “Leadership Circle” of various organizations to plan outreach to that population by working directly with the population, working with hospitals to connect patients who quality, working with community-based organizations, business owners, and non-profits who work with “traditionally harder-to-reach communities such as homeless persons and people who do not read English well.”

He named three people to the Leadership Circle:
• From the health sector – Tom Gibbon, manager of the Community Specialty Clinic at Swedish Medical Center,
• From the business sector – Maud Daudon, President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and
• From the non-profit sector – Gordon McHenry, Jr., Executive Director of the non-profit Solid Ground.

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