To the editor:
Rhode Island is not alone in acknowledging its debt to our nation’s military veterans. Rhode Island citizens, like citizens around the nation, appreciate the service they have given, the sacrifices they have made.
But actions speak louder than words, or parades. Yes, we cherish our veterans and those currently serving in the military and we relish the public events that pay them the honor they deserve. But our debt to them is much greater and our desire to help them return to “normal” society requires action that is much more specific and concrete.
For Rhode Island veterans – those already here and those who will be returning after their tours of duty – the General Assembly this session passed several important pieces of legislation that have all been enacted into law. These new laws are designed to assist veterans with their reintegration into society, increase their access to educational opportunities and help them obtain essential medical and human service benefits.
With the introduction of a package of veterans’ bills at the beginning of this legislative session, we made a commitment to do more, as a state, to provide support for the many military personnel and veterans, their families and their businesses. With passage and enactment of those bills, the General Assembly is keeping its promise to provide veterans with the help they need and to recognize the unique asset they are to our state and the state’s economy.
The new laws resulted from bills introduced in both legislative chambers (the bills in the Senate were part of a package to “Pave the Rhode Back Home” and resulted from a study and report on current and proposed services for veterans).
Among the new laws:
• Veterans’ Services Strategic Plan: Creates a 13-member Veterans’ Services Strategic Plan advisory committee that will be responsible for developing, maintaining and annually updating a five-year plan that includes goals and measurable outcomes to ensure that all departments of government deliver comprehensive services and support for veterans and their families. The VSSP would be required to be developed with input and guidance from the veterans’ community itself, through the creation of a veterans’ committee comprised of no fewer than five veterans representing diverse interests and viewpoints.
• Educational Assistance: Calls for the establishment of veteran-friendly educational programs in order to allow service personnel returning from a combat tour to achieve educational attainment in an accelerated manner. The programs would be established to acknowledge a student’s military training and coursework.
• Pocket Guide of Services: Directs the Division of Veterans’ Affairs to produce a comprehensive “Pocket Guide of Veterans’ Services” along with an online resource application of this information.
• Service Member/Military Spouse Licensure: Makes it easier to military service members and their spouses to obtain certifications and licenses to perform regulated professional services. It directs examining and licensing boards to accept education, training or service completed by an individual applicant as a member of the military toward qualifications to receive the license or certification.
• Military Service Credits: Requires that state-run public higher education institutions adopt a policy and promulgate regulations to award educational credits to veterans enrolled in their institution for courses that were part of the student’s military training.
• Support for the Homeless: Adds as a member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness an ex-officio member from the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center who specializes in health care for homeless veterans. It would also add to the permanent advisory council members of the veteran community including housing providers and a current or former homeless veteran.
In addition to the legislation that has been enacted, the state budget this year also includes $300,000 for operational support of the Veteran’s Court within the District Court. The funds will support a clinical supervisor, outreach coordinator, case manager and administrative assistant. The court, which was established in 2011, is designed to direct veterans with trauma-related disorders into support and treatment programs and to provide offenders with rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration.
There is no doubt in our minds that we – as a government, as a state, as a people – owe an extraordinary debt to those who have served in our nation’s military and defended the freedom and rights we all enjoy. We cannot do enough to welcome our veterans home and to recognize the unique asset that Rhode Island’s veterans are to the state’s economy. But we believe the legislation that has now become law is a very good step in that direction.
Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr
Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr.