I have always been a firm believer in the concept of leaving a place better than you found it and have made this my guiding principle throughout my tenure as your lieutenant governor. As I depart office after having served four years, I believe I am leaving the Office of the Lieutenant Governor in a better position to serve Missourians in the future.
One of my first priorities upon becoming lieutenant governor was to establish the Office of Advocacy and Assistance for the Elderly, which functions as a clearinghouse of information for seniors and their families in navigating governmental programs and services, as well as investigating complaints. Although this office was created by a vote of the people in 1992, I was the first to formally establish it by appointing the state's first elderly advocate after my election in 2000.
Through this office, we have worked diligently to improve the lives of Missouri seniors. During the summer of 2001 I led the state's Prescription Drug Task Force that helped formulate the legislation creating the Missouri Senior Rx Program and Commission, which I have chaired since its inception. Because of this program, thousands of our most needy seniors have been able to obtain prescription drug coverage.
We also fought to protect our seniors from abuse in long-term care facilities, helping to guide the passage of the Senior Care and Protection Act of 2003, which toughens penalties on nursing homes failing to provide quality care.
Shortly after becoming lieutenant governor I discovered that veterans in our state were nearly last in the nation in accessing their earned and deserved benefits. As a veteran of the Missouri National Guard, I vowed to make it a mission of my office to change this. Working with the Missouri Veterans Commission and state veterans' organizations, we created the Missouri Veterans Benefits Awareness Task Force, which established a hotline for veterans (1-866-VET INFO), hosted 26 "veterans' supermarkets" and provided information to veterans through public service announcements. In just one year, an additional 2,000 veterans signed up for VA benefits, and veteran payments increased by $54 million. This not only helped our veterans but also provided an infusion of money into Missouri's economy that would not have otherwise been realized.
Any boosts to our state's economy were crucial during the economic and budgetary trials our state has faced over the past few years. Through my positions as chair and vice chair of the Missouri Tourism Commission, we were able to maintain the continued success of Missouri tourism despite the large declines experienced in surrounding states in the months after Sept. 11. By creating the "Rediscover Your Missouri" campaign in the fall of 2001, we encouraged Missourians to explore and experience all our state has to offer. Missourians are now traveling throughout the state in record numbers, keeping our tourism industry strong despite difficult economic times.
Two little-known commissions on which I serve -- the Missouri Development Finance Board and the Missouri Housing Development Commission -- have done much to improve the quality of life of Missourians through job creation and infrastructure investment in each of our 114 counties.
The Missouri Development Finance Board provides development financing to assist infrastructure and economic development projects that have a high probability of success but would not be feasible without the board's assistance.
The Missouri Housing Development Commission encourages and assists in the production of affordable rental housing and homeownership opportunities for thousands of families throughout the state. I have worked to support the construction of housing dedicated for seniors and low-income Missourians, ensuring access to affordable and accessible housing for people regardless of age, income or physical disability.
My staff and I have worked hard to make Missouri a better place for all of its citizens.