Opinion

Supporting those who sacrifice for all of us

GUEST COLUMN

Recently, hundreds of people participated in community outreach events sponsored by the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs in Kitsap County. These events were held to honor our veterans for their service and focused on how we can support military families and veterans. I’m pleased that this year’s Legislature advanced these priorities.

Helping citizen soldiers remain active

in our economy

Imagine returning from service in the Guard or Reserves and discovering that you can’t return to work because your professional license has expired during your absence. In this year’s budget, we directed the Department of Licensing and others to adopt a policy for providing a grace period on all license and certificate expirations held by citizen soldiers for the period of their active-duty service plus six months.

I’ve heard from several veterans who have pointed to the lack of transferability of military training/certifications for WA professional certifications.

Honoring veterans and their families

This year, I worked with the Department of Veteran Affairs and my seatmate Rep. Larry Seaquist to pass Senate Bill 6237 to expand the eligibility for POW license plates and enable family members of veterans to purchase veterans plates to honor their family members.

We sponsored this legislation after a constituent told me about her grandfather, Dean Gehring, who served during the Korean War and was captured on a reconnaissance patrol in enemy territory. Dean spent two days in captivity before escaping - travelling a week through the snow without food or shelter. He eventually spent 30 days recovering in a Tokyo hospital.

Dean’s family spent nearly a decade trying to get him a POW license plate to honor his service, but amazingly state law required that a person be held at least 29 days to qualify for a POW plate.

That didn’t make sense. A minute in enemy hands is a minute too long. That’s why we worked to get the unanimous approval to change this rule.

The Legislature also passed Senate Bill 6678 to establish a Gold Star Parents license plate for mothers and fathers of soldiers who died serving their country. No one makes more sacrifices on our behalf than the members of our armed services and their families. These laws simply seek to honor that service.

t Supporting military and veteran families

During periods of deployment, we should do all we can to help military families. This year, we passed the Family Military Leave Act, which will allow employees who are married to a member of the armed forces to take up to 15 days unpaid leave while their spouse is on Rest and Recreation Leave.

We also worked to help kids in military families have access to the same educational opportunities as other students despite potential challenges from frequent moves. We passed Senate Bill 6426 to begin working with other states to help students receive proper grade placement, to easily transfer academic records as they move to a new school, and to account for unique challenges related to military deployments.

Connecting services members and

veterans with the benefits they’ve earned

When you serve your country, you shouldn’t suffer financially for it. The 2008 Legislature sought to ease the financial challenges facing disabled veterans by passing Senate Bill 5256, which provides property tax relief by excluding veterans’ benefits from the calculation for disposable income for the senior and disabled property tax exemption.

We also passed House Bill 2580 to ensure that payments for Guard service be made no later than 7 days after duty is completed.

Although the legislation we passed can never begin to fully compensate our military families and veterans for their service to our country, they represent a way of thanking veterans for their service and the strength they bring to our community.

If you are a veteran in need of assistance, or know of someone who needs help, please contact the Department of Veterans’ Affairs new Retsil Service Center in Port Orchard at (800) 562-2308 or (360) 895-4346, or visit their website at www.dva.wa.gov. The department has a variety of programs to assist current and former members of the military and their families and is dedicated to “Serving those who Serve.”

Derek Kilmer is the state senator for the 26th Legislative District. In 2007 he received the Glenn Galbreath Award from the Paralyzed Veterans of America for his work on veterans’ issues.

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