Governor Bob McDonnell met today with members of the state's Joint Leadership Council of Veterans Services Organizations (JLC) and Board of Veterans Services (BVS) to discuss proposals to better serve Virginia's veterans. The Veterans Roundtable meeting, held at Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1503 in Dale City, was part of the Governor's statewide "This Commonwealth of Opportunity" tour, and reinforced his commitment to making Virginia the most veteran- and military-friendly state in the nation.
Speaking about this administration's veterans initiatives, Governor McDonnell said, "Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and Kuwait to visit with our troops serving overseas, including members of the Virginia National Guard. These incredible men and women have volunteered to serve in harm's way to keep us safe. While there, I thanked them for their service to our great Commonwealth and this nation. This trip was a reminder of how much we owe our active duty members, reservists and our veterans. Virginia is home to almost 840,000 veterans. They were there when we needed them, and now we need to be there when they need us. The best way to learn what our veterans expect from their state government is to listen to them, and that's what we did today. The JLC is comprised of representatives of 24 veterans service organizations - groups that have their ear to the ground on veterans issues. The JLC and the BVS work hard each year to identify and prioritize recommendations for improving and expanding veterans services. This is just the kind of input we need to ensure that we're on the right track."
Governor McDonnell continued, "Over the last three years, we have worked to accomplish our goal of making Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in the nation through new programs and legislation that recognize the ongoing needs of those who have served our country and made Virginia their home. In partnership with the Joint Leadership Council, the Board of Veterans Services, and the Virginia General Assembly, we have rolled out significant new veterans programs and benefits. We have given special emphasis to employment and education programs for veterans and family members. Through programs like the Virginia Values Veterans program, which helps Virginia employers recruit and hire veterans, we are able to help veterans find work with over 4,000 jobs already pledged to Veterans. The one in ten Virginians who serve or have served in the armed forces deserve our thanks and assistance. They served Virginia and we must serve them. Our military and veterans initiatives advanced over the last three years have helped us make huge strides in continuing to improve services for these great men and women."
New or expanded veterans benefits advanced during the McDonnell Administration include:
- To assist veterans in making the transition from the military to a civilian career, Virginia has launched innovative new employment initiatives, including the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program, which helps Virginia employers learn how to recruit, hire, train, and retain veterans. Over 4,000 jobs have been pledged to veterans as a result.
- The Troops to Trucks SM program, developed by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), is the first of its kind in the nation, putting veterans and serving National Guard and Reserve members to work in transportation jobs.
The Virginia Post-Transition Assistance Program (TAP) was established to design and implement post-military-service transition assistance curriculum for veterans, serving members of the National Guard and Reserve and military families through coordination with local, state, and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and private enterprise.
- To improve access to educational opportunities for veterans, the one year residency requirement to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Virginia colleges and universities was waived. This extends to veterans the same in-state tuition eligibility benefits granted to active duty military members, their dependents, and certain members of the Virginia National Guard.
- An additional $600,000 was provided for the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, which provides education benefits to spouses and children of military service veterans from Virginia killed, missing in action, taken prisoner, or who have become at least 90% disabled as a result of military service in an armed conflict. The reach of this program grew from 902 students in the 2009-2010 school year to 1,100 in the 2012-2013 school year.
- Finally, key partnerships were formed that provided a foundation for a cross-agency, collaborative approach to veterans services. The Virginia Veterans ID Card is one such example. The Department of Veterans Services partnered with DMV to create the new card, providing ready proof of veterans status for Virginia's veterans.
DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb praised the partnerships built over the past four years, stating "to date, more than 200 military personnel have directly benefitted from our Troops to TrucksSM program, nearly 40,000 Virginia veterans have received Virginia Veterans ID cards, and scores more are accessing government services through the new Fort Lee DMV office and DMV 2 Go mobile offices that routinely visit military installations. We are proud to have partnerships with Virginia's military leaders, support agencies, and the private sector that have joined together to further Governor McDonnell's vision for more veteran-friendly programs in the Commonwealth."
During today's roundtable, Governor McDonnell and the JLC members reviewed proposals made by the JLC in advance of the 2014 General Assembly session. The JLC recommends that the General Assembly:
- Support competitive compensation authority and funding for Department of Veterans Services (DVS) claims agents;
- Continue base funding for the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program to support hiring and retention of veterans, particularly those who have served during the past decade and those returning from deployment;
- Continue and increase funding for the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program as a priority in the development and approval of the 2014-2016 biennial budget;
- Enact legislation to permit the electronic return of absentee ballot by overseas uniformed military voters;
- Approve funding in the 2014-2016 biennial budget to expand services for homeless veterans;
- Provide one-time funding in the FY2015 budget to commission an update to the 2010 Virginia Tech report "Assessing the Experiences, Supportive Service Needs and Service Gaps of Veterans in the Commonwealth of Virginia" to measure progress in access to health care, behavioral healthcare and supportive community services, including employment, housing and financial assistance, for veterans, members of the National Guard and Reserves not in active federal service and their families in the Commonwealth;
- Pass a resolution to provide a Real Property Tax Exemption for Spouses of Military Killed in Action, identical to the resolution (HJ551) passed by the 2013 General Assembly, and that the Governor and General Assembly enact legislation to place a referendum on the ballot for the November 4, 2014 general election.
"We were honored to have this unique opportunity to discuss with Governor McDonnell our recommendations for the 2014 General Assembly session," stated Donald Kaiserman, JLC Chairman. "As the voice of Virginia's veterans, the JLC identifies issues of concern to veterans, their spouses, orphans, and dependents. For the past 10 years, the JLC has submitted a set of key initiatives for consideration by the Governor and General Assembly. The initiatives are identified by our member organizations, and have the full support of the 24 veterans groups represented on the JLC."
Governor McDonnell also reviewed the three recommendations made by the Board of Veterans Services (BVS). The BVS recommended that:
- The Department of Veterans Services (DVS) create a staff development plan to serve as an effective management tool to recruit, hire, train, and, most importantly, to retain Benefits Section staff. Based on this plan, DVS should identify the necessary funding to implement the plan in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 and submit a supporting budget request to the Governor and General Assembly;
- That the Governor and General Assembly authorize two additional positions for the state veterans cemeteries in Fiscal Year 2015;
- The Governor and General Assembly enact legislation effecting a very limited change to the Code of Virginia in regards to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP). The requested change would expand eligibility for benefits under the VMSDEP to the qualified survivors and dependents of recently separated or retired military service members who do not meet current VMSDEP residency requirements but who meet all other requirements. These veterans, when they were on active duty, may not have been a bona fide domiciliary of the Commonwealth of Virginia for tax purposes, but have had a long-term physical presence in the Commonwealth because they were assigned to a duty station in Virginia. These new veterans have remained in Virginia after leaving active duty, and have taken the steps required to establish domicile. They have demonstrated their commitment to the Commonwealth by their long-term physical presence and by remaining in the state after leaving active duty.
Thad Jones is the Chairman of the Board of Veterans Services (BVS), which includes five members of the General Assembly of Virginia. He expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to meet directly with Governor McDonnell to discuss the BVS recommendations, and added, "I was also encouraged that so many members of the General Assembly from Prince William and Stafford counties attended today's event. This demonstrates the continued broad, non-partisan support of veterans issues by the Executive and Legislative branches of our state government."
The Commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services (DVS), Paul Galanti noted, "It was very fitting that today's event was held at VFW Post 1503, which is named in honor of the late U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller, a native Virginian and one of our nation's greatest heroes. He was dedicated to taking care of his troops, just as all of us in the Virginia government are committed to serving Virginia's veterans. From employment to education to wounded warrior care, state agencies assist Virginia's veterans in a number of ways."
Virginia Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Terrie L. Suit stated, "As a veteran himself and the father of an Iraq War veteran, Governor McDonnell has a unique appreciation of the needs of our veterans. From the start of his administration, he has stressed a collaborative, cross-agency approach to serving veterans, which has really paid off. Just a few examples include the innovative Troops to TrucksSM program launched by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the outstanding success of the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, and the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at the College of William & Mary Law School."