S.C. leaders lay out plan for helping state’s nearly 400K veterans over next year

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Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 5:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - About one in 10 adults living in South Carolina has served the country through military service.

The state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs said its top priority is ensuring those nearly 400,000 South Carolinians can thrive once that service is over.

During the annual Governor’s Summit on Veteran Affairs on Thursday in downtown Columbia, the department reviewed its successes and challenges over the past year and laid out its priorities for the next year, ranging from supporting mental health to ensuring the success of military families.

“Our veterans give us great strength,” Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters after the event. “Our veterans’ families give us great strength and great talent and great assets, and we want to see that all of the veterans that need help get it.”

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs said one of the most urgent areas in which it is working to provide that help is by reducing veteran suicides.

That is one of the department’s five key focus areas for the next year, as veterans across the country face higher suicide rates than the general population.

“When you leave military service, the gap that you often leave behind is the camaraderie, the teamwork that you found in military service,” Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Todd McCaffrey told reporters. “And when you leave that and pole vault into the civilian world, that’s often a really challenging gap, and some veterans struggle with that. And obviously, veteran suicide is the most tragic outcome of that struggle.”

Other goals for the coming year include expanding the coalition that supports veterans and helps them access resources and benefits, improving services in underresourced counties, and improving educational opportunities for military children.

McCaffrey highlighted recent legislation that eases the school enrollment process for the children of active-duty servicemembers moving to South Carolina, in effect starting with the new school year.

“And why is it important for the military? Because if you can — they say when you enlist a service member, you retain a family,” he said. “And so whatever we can do to support these families, we are supporting the military in South Carolina, and we’re supporting national security by keeping these talented individuals in uniform because their kids are being taken care of.”

The department is also preparing to significantly expand its responsibilities in the next year.

A new state law that will divide the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control into two new state agencies, signed by McMaster in May, will also require the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to take over operations of most state-run veteran nursing homes from the Department of Mental Health by July 1, 2024.

“The care veterans are receiving in those homes is superb today, and it will stay superb in the future, and that’s our pledge and our responsibility,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said his department is already working with the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Administration on this transition, adding that the process is currently on track in its timeline.

“We’re very confident we’ll be in a superb position to take over the responsibility of overseeing the management of those homes,” he said.

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