RI appoints first director of veterans affairs

By PATRICK ANDERSON | The Providence Journal, R.I. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 18, 2016

Rhode Island military veterans will have a new advocate in Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kasim Yarn, who was introduced by Governor Raimondo Wednesday as the state's first director of veterans affairs.

A North Kingstown resident who has served 25 years in the Navy, Yarn will fill a state government cabinet position created in 2009, but never funded or filled.

"We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they and their families have made on our behalf," Raimondo said in a news release announcing the hire. "Kasim has spent nearly half of his life in the armed forces and more than a decade of his military career living in Rhode Island. He understands the unique challenges veterans and their families face and will be an advocate for every veteran in Rhode Island."

Yarn, 43, is expected to retire from the Navy next month and begin work for the state May 16, according to Ashley O'Shea, a spokeswoman for Raimondo. No decision has been made yet on whether he will work out of Providence, Bristol or some other location.

A division within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Rhode Island's veterans office runs the state Veterans Home in Bristol and the Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.

Running those facilities will continue to be the bulk of what the division does, but in an email O'Shea wrote that Yarn will work on "increasing the role the [Veterans] Office plays with assisting veterans' transitions from service to the community, including in the areas of education, workforce training, small business ownership, and housing and home ownership."

In her budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts in July, Raimondo has proposed making the Director of Veterans Affairs report directly to her instead of the Health and Human Services director.

Yarn will make $122,186 annually plus benefits, O'Shea said.

The veterans affairs director is part of a surge in managerial hiring and raises planned by Raimondo this year, as well as the second new cabinet position created since the start of the year.

Raimondo's budget proposal for next year would add roughly 109 full-time state employees to the current budget.

The Division of Veterans Affairs has also grown recently with a proposed budget of $30.1 million for next year and 242 employees. The personnel spending in the division would jump to $27.5 million under Raimondo's budget plan from $24.6 million three years ago.

In 2009 the General Assembly passed a bill turning the Division of Veterans Affairs into a standalone state department with a cabinet-level director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

However, the director's position was never funded and in 2011, before the division ever turned into a separate department, lawmakers repealed the 2009 law and kept the division within Health and Human Services, according to a narrative in the current budget.

O'Shea said Yarn's hiring does not require Senate confirmation.

Yarn joined the Navy in 1991 at age 18 and was stationed at Naval Station Newport starting in 1995, according to the governor's office. He served in Europe and on support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

He has a bachelor's degree from Boston University and a master's degree from Newport's Naval War College.

"I have spent my entire adult life serving my country and am honored to take on a new challenge serving veterans and military families in my state," Yarn said in the news release. "My top priority is to honor the service and sacrifices our veterans and military families have made by giving voice to their ideas and concerns and working together to ensure that every veteran has an opportunity to make it in Rhode Island."


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