SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Horn dubbed 2015 the year of the veteran during his state of the county address Tuesday night and outlined several programs and services for veterans set to roll out this year.
Horn, a former Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran, said ramping up current county programs that connect former military members and their families with services and benefits and adding new ones was a top priority. More than one-third of San Diego County's population is made up of active duty military, veterans and their families.
"These men and women have made sacrifices that often take terrible tolls on their personal lives. As a county and as a community, we have a responsibility to take care of our veterans," Horn said in his roughly half-hour speech at the County Administration Center.
A Veterans Resource Center will be opened at the North Inland Family Resource Center in Escondido this summer. Horn, who has represented the North County since 1995, said it would be a one-stop shop for veterans and would connect them with county representatives, access to programs and services and around 15 organizations that provide support.
Horn said the referral process would then be easier to navigate because the veterans center would be located in the same building as the family resource center, child welfare services and adult protective services.
Veterans who require benefit counseling, college fee waivers, employment or housing services, transition assistance or legal aid would be able take care of everything in one location.
Horn also outlined a partnership between the county government and several other cities aiming to end veteran and chronic homelessness.
"This initiative is a street level effort to connect the homeless with prevention services and permanent housing, health care, jobs and supportive services," Horn said.
The county also plans to convert its Department of Veterans Affairs into a streamlined Military and Veterans Department in the next few months and begin a program in the East County called Vet Connect, which will allow veterans to access assistance using FaceTime video calling from library computers, Horn said.
Plans for a memory care unit at the Chula Vista Veterans Home of California were also in the works.
Horn said the effort to better serve veterans was only one example of the county's stewardship, or the ethic which embodies responsible planning and resource management.
The board has been smart with the county's around $5 billion budget and maintained top credit and bond ratings for several years. The county will also work to make longer lasting infrastructure repairs instead of short term fixes.
Crime rates were falling in San Diego County, but public safety remained among the top priorities, Horn said. The design process for the county's forensic crime lab will take place in 2015. After the lab is completed in 2018, staffers will be able to analyze DNA, firearms, controlled substances and other forms of evidence.
Horn also pledged the county's resources would be used to "protect our families, our homes and our neighborhoods." County staffers will also run cyber-attack drills this year to "practice ways to protect ourselves and minimize the damage from an enemy we cannot see."
Horn also announced plans for continuing gang intervention programs and establishing a gang tattoo removal program in the North County. And for the scofflaws who refuse the county's help, the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility was being expanded this year.