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NH veterans program targeted by 'baffling bureaucratic decision'

World War II veterans listen to President Barack Obama speak at the ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on June 6, 2014, marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

MANCHESTER — Gov. Maggie Hassan is asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to allow Easter Seals New Hampshire to be eligible to bid for a federal grant and continue running a nationally recognized support program for veterans and the families of deployed troops.

Hassan sent Hagel a letter protesting “a baffling bureaucratic decision” that excludes the non-profit agency from bidding for a contract to fund the Deployment Cycle Support Coordination Program. Easter Seals has run the program in a partnership with the New Hampshire National Guard and state Department of Health and Human Services since 2007.

“This one-of-a-kind partnership has been widely praised throughout the country, and data show that the services provided by Easter Seals have a tremendously positive impact on the lives of our service members and their families,” Hassan wrote in the letter released Friday.

Hassan asked Hagel to reconsider criteria set by the National Guard Bureau limiting the bids to small businesses, which the governor said would dismantle the current structure of a program that has helped returning troops through difficult times after they come home and assists families while service members are on active duty.

“Now in a baffling bureaucratic decision, the National Guard Bureau is refusing to allow Easter Seals to even bid on the contract,” Hassan wrote.

Easter Seals New Hampshire President Larry Gammon said on Friday that he is hopeful Hassan’s efforts and support from New Hampshire’s congressional delegation could lead to changes before the bid deadline next week.

“We have no idea how this happened. We haven’t been able to find out,” Gammon said. “We too are baffled by it because we have such a great relationship with the Guard and the people that we’re serving.”

Gammon said he met with U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen during a trip to Washington two weeks ago. The senators sent out a joint statement Friday in support of the program.

“New Hampshire’s Deployment Cycle Support Care Coordination Program has excelled in providing support to our service members and their families during the full cycle of deployment, and it’s a proven public-private partnership that has been praised as a national model,” the senators said. “Our highest priority is to ensure that New Hampshire’s service members and their families continue to receive the very best support before, during, and after deployments.”

Daisy Wojewoda, director of military veterans for Easter Seals New Hampshire, said the amount of funding that has gone to the program varied, depending on the number of troops deployed and those who had recently come home.

She said the agency was up for the challenge of the bid process because the program has been a huge success and cost efficient.

According to Easter Seals, the program has helped more than 2,600 people in various ways. More than 280 people are now enrolled in the program, which has been commended for successfully helping people who were serious suicide threats.

“We’re very proud of it,” Wojewoda said. “It shows that the intervention works.”

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