Who is Secretary Donnie Quintana?
SECRETARY QUINTANA: 505-827-6300 NMDVS.Info@dvs.nm.gov
“OUR 144,134 VETERANS DESERVE BETTER!”
Meet Ret. Army Col. Donnie Quintana, the newly confirmed Secretary of the NM Department of Veterans Services (DVS). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed him on January 12, 2023 and his nomination was approved by the NM Senate on March 15, 2023. “Quintana served as Deputy Secretary and interim leader of the Department since late October, working closely with former Secretary Sonya Smith and department staff to ensure a smooth and effective transition of leadership,” the Governor said.
Many know of him in his roles with the NM National Guard. Here is a brief summary of his military and public service. The veteran has served in a variety of leadership positions within the New Mexico National Guard, including Brigade Commander and Chief of Staff. He also served as the Executive Officer and Corps Commander Senior Mentor for the Afghan National Army as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition to over 35 years in the military, Quintana has several decades of experience in public service. He most recently served as the Local Government Division Director for the State Department of Finance and Administration, where he played an integral role in the establishment of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, overseeing the distribution of over $200 million in funds. Quintana also previously served for 20 years at the state Economic Development Department in various roles. He holds a bachelor’s degree from New Mexico State University.
The Secretary sat down with VMFC Family Member Sue Wolinsky recently to share his vision, his goals and a few changes he’s already making to improve all services for veterans in New Mexico.
IMPROVING DVS CUSTOMER SERVCE
“We’ve heard the complaints and we’re trying to do something about our customer service. Service to our vets is our #1 priority,” he explained. Here are some things Secretary Quintana is doing right now.
“We’ve identified our ‘pressure points’. For example, we knew we were not doing a good job answering our veterans’ calls. We now have incoming calls linked to three separate phone numbers, each staffed individually with backup to the other numbers. This is the first place we can improve our customer service,” he explained. “We are also working on timeliness in approving benefits applications,” he added.
“We have a Customer Satisfaction Survey on the front page of our website and in our Field Service Offices. On the website, it’s a quick click to take the survey,” he said. “In fact, we are making changes to our website to make it easier to use. For example, we encouraged veterans to call our office, but only showed our phone number once. Now we have it on almost every page. We also added pop-ups to learn more about specific programs.”
“The Governor said to expand our capability and capacity in our veterans services, and to improve on delivery of services. I’m a firm believer in data and statistics. We need to be able to document our department’s return on investment of the state dollars that support our program. We need raw data and we need to convert it with analytics in order to make policy. Efficiency leads to effectiveness,” he explained.
“We are filling our vacant Field Services Division’s veteran service officers (VSOs). We’ve been understaffed. We’re now up to 27 VSO’s. (According to the DVS website, there are only two vacancies.) We’re also hiring temporary positions that we hope to make permanent,” he said. For more information about the DVS Field Offices, see https://www.nmdvs.org/field-offices/.
A GOOD 2023 LEGISLATIVE SESSION FOR DVS AND VETERANS
“We’ve had success working with the state legislature this year, both in terms of our increased budget and in terms of the services we can offer in areas where we’ve been underserving,” he said.
THE BUDGET: “We were successful in getting the recommended $8.027.4M budget this year, an increase of >10%. We requested $800k for outreach and we got it. This will be used for a mobile office we can use in rural areas. We’re getting quotes now. We also got an additional $100,000 for suicide prevention. This is one of our key service areas. I believe in supporting veterans when they’re alive. We received $150,000 for homeless veterans. We are working with the Veterans Integration Center (VIC) and others who provide housing. We got $75,000 for digital medical records. We have grant agreement with the VA that starts on July 1 for an additional $265,000 for rural transportation services; we received state budget money to support this effort. We also received an additional $75,000 for veterans with active PTSD at Ft. Stanton for vets.”
MORE VETERAN BENEFITS AND SERVICES APPROVED: The DVS website lists 15 areas of benefits available to veterans and their families. Several of the benefits were added and/or enhanced in the 2023 legislative session. In most cases, links to application forms are provided. “We fared well in this legislative session. I appreciate that the legislature increased the tax exemption on property. I realize it’s a give-and-take for local taxing governments, but this is an important benefit,” he explained. (Author’s Note: The VMFC website nmvetscaucus.org recently published the 2023 Legislative Report Card, which identifies all caucus-supported legislation that supports veterans and military families, as well as the legislators and senators who introduced, supported, voted for and voted against each bill.)
WORKING WITH OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: Secretary Quintana’s experience in state government, serving in key roles in the Department of Finance and Administration, and the Economic Development Department, is important here. “We are working with other state agencies to help our veterans,” he said. “We have 6% of our small businesses that are owned by veterans. I want to expand that. Let’s identify companies to hire them. Let’s hook up our veterans with other services. Let’s broker that. This is an energized area. We are also trying to hook up veterans with educational programs,” he added. “We also are now partnering with the VA on mortgage loans.”
COLLABORATION WITH OTHER VETERANS SERVICE PROVIDERS
“The needs of our veterans are too large for any one entity to address. We have to leverage federal, state, county and local governments, nonprofit organizations, our communities, and our veterans’ families to meet this need,” he said with determination. “We’ve been able to reach out to many organizations that are amenable to this collaboration.” These entities include a variety of veterans organizations, The Veterans Administration (VA), local governments, tribal governments, and a variety of other organizations to:
Coordinate health care benefits and all benefits to which veterans are entitled. ”We’ve started the dialogue with our counterparts,” he said.
Help NM veterans understand the process for veterans to process their benefits applications for The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, commonly known as the PACT Act. “We are reaching out, being proactive to educate our NM veterans on the PACT Act. Outreach is critical. The VA is at the helm, of course. We are figuring out ways to get the veterans’ applications in front of anyone who can help them. Nearly 4,000 claims have been submitted with approximately 1,600 approved, resulting in a net sum of $7.7m in awards. There are currently 2,500 claims pending. The act is “presumptive”, which means if a veteran can prove they were stationed where and when one of the 21 toxins was present and have a medical condition related to those toxins, they can get approved. What’s also different now is that the VA must work with the veteran to make sure their claim is complete. The PACT Act energized the VA in this respect. And we’re glad to help provide PACT Act outreach in NM. We’ve participated in 12-14 outreach events so far,” he said. (Author’s Note: For more information about the PACT Act, see //www.va.gov/resources/the-pact-act-and-your-va-benefits/.)
In a related action, the NM DVS has agreed to be the fiscal agent for AmericaServe, an organization that is preparing a landscape study to identify the myriad of veterans services available in NM so they can work in greater coordination with each other and enhance service availability to veterans. (Author’s Note: The VMFC hosted a program on AmericaServe’s program for New Mexico in fall 2022 and endorses their program on behalf of veterans in New Mexico. See endorsement on the caucus’ website https://nmvetscaucus.org/americaserves-new-mexico/.)
IN CONCLUSION: “I’m doing what my 99-year-old gramma told me: ‘you have two ears and one mouth; if you use them in proportion, you’ll be a success.’ I’m listening to our veterans, so they can be successful too.”