This is an open thread. What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?
For many veterans and their loved ones, Memorial Day is a somber occasion, not a time to celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer. On that note, I posted news and links related to Iowa veterans after the jump.
The Iowa legislature approved a number of bills affecting veterans during the 2012 session. This list comes from Democratic State Senator Daryl Beall's latest constituent newsletter. Many Iowa Senate Democrats sent out the same list of bills. A lot of the legislation was news to me, because it didn't attract much political controversy or media coverage.
In the Legislature, I chair the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, where we ensure bipartisan work toward meeting the needs of those who serve. Each year, we explore opportunities to support Iowa veterans and their families, enhance existing services at the state and county levels, and help returning servicemembers make a smooth transition back to civilian life.
While I was disappointed that my effort to offer an employer tax credit to those that 'Hire a Hero' didn't make it through the Legislature (SF 2142), this year's successes for our veterans, servicemembers and their families are many. They include:
• Ensuring returning soldiers get promised help with their college tuition by investing in the Iowa National Guard tuition assistance program. (SF 2321)
• Helping veterans buy a home of their own in Iowa by providing home-buying assistance. (SF2336)
• Establishing a "Post-Traumatic Stress and Dual Diagnosis Center" at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown to provide long-term care to Iowans suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress and substance abuse. (SF 2245)
• Expanding eligibility for the Iowa National Guard Civil Relief Act so that Iowans on active duty won't have to worry about lease termination, eviction, or the disconnection of gas, electric and other services. (SF 2097)
• Eliminating the waiting list of veterans who need emergency assistance for such things as home repairs, urgent medical or dental care, and other pressing needs, by putting more money into the Veterans Trust Fund. (HF 2466)
• Opening doors to employment by allowing the Iowa Department of Transportation to waive the driving skills test for a Commercial Driver's License if a returning servicemember has proper training and work experience from their time in the military. (HF 2403)
• Allowing Iowa military veterans to request their veteran status be noted on their Iowa driver's license or state ID card, which will make applying for veterans benefits more straightforward. (SF 2112)
• Making it easier for a veteran to receive a six-month extension of their driver's license by showing their Department of Defense common access card or a certificate of release from active duty. (HF 2404)
• Preserving the stories of the citizen soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo, which has already collected 1,200 video oral histories of those who served in earlier conflicts. (SF 2316)
• Supporting renovations at the Fort Des Moines Veterans Museum, which had trained African-American soldiers during World War I and female military members in World War II. (SF 2316)
• Clarifying requirements for the State's Injured Veterans Grant program. A veteran must be seriously injured or very seriously injured, as defined by the U.S. Department of Defense. (SF 2244)
• Allowing the Veterans Trust Fund to provide loans to help build the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. The money will be paid back by federal grants, and the trust fund will not decrease. (HF 2402)
• Allowing veterans to purchase an interment space for themselves and their spouse, if space is available, and allowing the surviving spouse to purchase space in the cemetery where the veteran is interred. (HF 2264)
• Appropriating $3 million to help preserve the USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles, where she will be a living legacy and museum. Iowans will be able to visit and tour her free of charge. (SF 2018)
We hear so many platitudes about supporting the troops, especially those who served in combat. I'm glad Iowa legislators put more money where their mouths are this year. In particular, it's good to know there will be more concentrated efforts to serve veterans who suffer from service-related post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse problems.
Military service can be highly stressful. An estimated 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD or depression. The suicide rate among U.S. veterans is appalling. In 2009 and 2010, the U.S. military "lost more troops to suicide than [...] to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan," and that statistic reflects only active-duty suicides, not the much larger number of veterans who killed themselves during those years. The non-profit organization Stop Soldier Suicide seeks to raise awareness of this problem and connect active service members and veterans to mental health services.
Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act in 2007. Representative Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03) was the lead sponsor of that bill. Clearly much more work needs to be done to combat this problem.
Speaking of veterans' health, Boswell (the only veteran in Iowa's U.S. House delegation) sponsored two amendments that were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013, passed earlier this month. One calls for a study on "the incidence rate of breast cancer in service members and veterans," and the other directs "the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on the effects of multiple deployments on the well-being of military personnel and their families."
Finally, I enclose a couple of political Memorial Day comments.
Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) released this statement on May 25:
Washington, DC - Today, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement on Memorial Day:
"This weekend, families all over the country will gather to honor the brave men and women who have fought for our country and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Memorial Day always brings back memories of my father, who was just 17 when he fought the battle on Iwo Jima, but this year is even more personal. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Iwo Jima with several veterans. It was a moving and memorable experience, and I was so honored to pay my respects to all who fought in that historic battle 67 years ago. As a veteran, my father taught me to take pride in America's values and fight for my beliefs. From him, my family learned of the struggles and challenges facing members of the military and their families when they come home from war. Although this weekend we honor our fallen soldiers, we must also remember our military heroes and their families every day. We must work hard to make sure that they have the care and support they need not only when they're on the front lines, but also when they come home. We owe that to them and their families.
This Memorial Day weekend, I keep all of our fallen heroes and their families in my thoughts. And I extend my deepest thanks to our veterans and their families. Thank you for your service, your sacrifice and your bravery."
Representative Steve King (R, IA-05) released this statement on May 25:
Washington, DC- Congressman Steve King (R-IA) released the following statement to honor the men and women who have given their lives for our county, and to encourage 5th District Iowans to take time this Memorial Day to pay respects to those brave service men and women to whom we owe our freedom.
"May this Memorial Day weekend help us to put our lives into perspective, so that we can honor those who have given this country the ultimate sacrifice," said King. "I've been with our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. I've seen firsthand the hardships that they face, yet they endure it all with incredible courage and focus. I offer my sincere appreciation for those who have fought in uniform for our great nation. I also recognize the stalwart families who supported their sons and daughters through their difficult journeys. I hope that this Memorial Day we each can be reminded of the greatness of our nation and be grateful for the freedoms we have because they knew what they were fighting for."