Connecticut Veterans are smart, highly trained, hard-working, dedicated, and team-oriented leaders who are comfortable in changing and dynamic environments.  Successfully reintegrated Veteran create economic, political, and social capital in our communities.  As we celebrate Veterans Day, let us remember they are national assets and an important part of restoring Connecticut opportunity and launching our great state’s economy on an upward trajectory.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, I had the extraordinarily rewarding privilege of serving our 200,000-plus Connecticut Veterans as the Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Veteran Affairs.  Despite reduced resources and challenging times, we had some significant achievements.

We updated the Residential Facilities and Services Program with additional wraparound services and a modernized program fee structure to empower veteran residents on the path to their best lives, thereby reducing the on-campus residential housing census by approximately 40 percent.

We completed and began over $11 million in important projects to expand capacity and upgrade the Middletown State Veterans Cemetery, all through 100 percent federally funded grants we sought and obtained from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  We launched an Electronic Medical Records System, a new machine and process for dispensing medication, and an updated pharmaceuticals agreement for the Levitow Healthcare Center, all improving efficiency in administering long-term and chronic disease care to Connecticut Veterans.

Finally, we led the way with the Office of Advocacy and Assistance handling over 10,000 claims resulting in Connecticut Veterans receiving over $108 million in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.  In short, we did more with less.

But we have more work to do to ensure that our veterans are key partners in propelling Connecticut forward.  My first, second, and third priorities will be our state’s economy.  In our state, working together with a laser focus on our state’s economy must include encouraging Connecticut employers to leverage the amazing talent of Connecticut veterans by hiring them onto their teams until we have full employment for Connecticut’s veterans.

We must also cultivate Connecticut as a start-up and scale-up state to stimulate economic growth at a faster pace, including for Connecticut veteran entrepreneurs, to help re-energize the economic engine of opportunity for all Connecticut citizens.  Connecticut has the talent (especially our veterans) to become a place where businesses thrive and economic growth is reinvigorated.

We haven’t realized our potential yet, but by making state government more agile and responsive, even in the face of our difficult fiscal realities, we can maximize the return on our investment and change the narrative about Connecticut.

We know that small businesses are responsible for up to 70 percent of all job creation.  As such, a vigorous small business economy is key to job growth and economic expansion.  Our state is particularly fertile ground for veteran-owned small businesses, with some 30,000-plus businesses out of a veteran working population of 90,000, or a ratio of better than one-to-three.  Veteran-owned businesses contribute approximately 9 percent to our state’s gross domestic product, some $20 billion annually.

We must develop a long-term growth plan for our state, not to be put on the shelf, but for energetic and persistent action.  Veteran entrepreneurs must be part of that plan.

Connecticut has a long tradition of honoring our veterans going back to the Civil War era when we were the first state in the nation to have a Veterans Home.  We can continue to make sure that veterans play a critical role in Connecticut’s future.  Doing so will only make our state better.  My mantra as commissioner was that it’s not just Veterans Day, Veterans Week, or Veterans Month here in Connecticut.  It’s Veterans Always.

Let’s keep it that way!  Veterans Always!

Sean M. Connolly is an exploratory candidate for Governor of Connecticut.  He is a Veteran and Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and the former Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Veterans Affairs. 

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