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July 26. 2014 8:03PM

Governor, U.S. senators praise Easter Seals' support of NH vets

Gov. Maggie Hassan still believes Easter Seals New Hampshire should have a chance to bid on running a military support program it helped create seven years ago, her spokesman said Friday.

Earlier this month, Hassan sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, protesting what she called "a baffling bureaucratic decision" that bars Easter Seals from early round bidding on a federal contract to run the Deployment Cycle Support Care Coordination Program for New Hampshire National Guard.

On Friday, the governor's press secretary, William Hinkle, said her office has been in contact with the White House and the vice president's office, but has not received a response from the Defense Department.

While Hassan appreciates the reason behind policies aimed at creating opportunities for small and veteran-owned businesses, Hinkle said in an email, "broad, rigid bureaucratic policies can sometimes lead to ridiculous results."

"Governor Hassan believes this is one of those cases," he said.

Asked for comment on how those federal rules are playing out in the contract process in New Hampshire, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte issued the following joint statement on Saturday to the New Hampshire Sunday News:

"We have successfully and consistently advocated for federal funding for the Deployment Cycle Support Program that Easter Seals and their partners have carried out incredibly well.

"At this point, the New Hampshire National Guard is assessing the proposals they have received, weighing competing priorities, and deliberating whether to request an extension of the cooperative agreement - and we await their decision.

"Our single-minded focus remains ensuring New Hampshire service members and their families continue to receive the best possible support without interruption."

Larry Gammon, president and CEO of Easter Seals New Hampshire, said Shaheen and Ayotte have been instrumental in getting federal funding for the support program each year.

Easter Seals got involved in serving military families in 2006, as the first waves of New Hampshire National Guard members were returning home from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Staff and donors created a program called Veterans Count to provide emergency assistance unavailable through other channels, such as money for rent, utilities or child care for deployed service members and their families.

Over the years, the program evolved into a cooperative agreement among Easter Seals, the Guard and the state Department of Health and Human Services that became the Deployment Cycle Support Care Coordination Program.

Veterans Count has continued as a philanthropy that raises funds for a variety of Easter Seals military and veterans services. It has chapters in Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth.

Mike Salter of Amherst is a founder of Veterans Count. A veteran of U.S. Army Special Forces, he said he wanted to engage the private sector to support the new generation deploying overseas.

The program that evolved has been hailed by national leaders as a model of cooperation among the public, private and nonprofit sectors, he said.

But Salter said the program is now "threatened" by the National Guard's decision to switch to a federal contract. "Why would you disturb this collaborative model at the community level?" he asked. "It's worked."

Regardless of what happens with the contract, Salter said, Veterans Count will keep serving those who serve. "We're going to continue to stop them from falling through the cracks," he said.



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