Honoring our veterans with more than words
I come from a family of veterans as far back as the Revolutionary War. I grew up listening to stories about serving and sacrifice from grandfathers who knew the deeper meaning of both.
One of the characteristics that makes northeast Washington such a great place to live is how the majority of our citizens, local governments and businesses look upon and treat our veterans.
As I have travelled around our district to the parades, community days and town celebrations, the sense of civic engagement and national pride are everywhere. Our pledge of allegiance, our flag, our national anthem, and our veterans are all honored and shown respect not always evident in other areas of the state.
However, it is not enough to tell veterans that we appreciate their service; we need to show it.
I am once again sponsoring legislation this year to create the Veterans Service Officer program to provide funding for rural and underserved counties that need a veterans service officer (VSO).
VSOs assist veterans and their families with claims for federal benefits and may work for state, county or tribal governments. In some counties, VSOs are funded through local veterans assistance programs.
In many counties, however, resources are stretched thin and despite their best efforts, underserved counties struggle to provide direction and assistance to veterans.
My bill, House Bill 1448, would help bridge that service gap. It creates a fund that can receive state or private contributions and directs the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs to:
- educate local governments, veterans, and members of the National Guard or Armed Forces Reserves about the program;
- develop partnerships with and provide funding to counties establishing and maintaining local accredited VSOs; and
- develop an application process for the program.
My legislation has broad bipartisan support with 39 cosponsors, including 18 Democrats. It passed out of the Housing, Community Development and Veterans Committee and is now in the Appropriations Committee.
During initial testimony in committee, we heard that the VSO model is being used every day around the state and is providing a significant return on investment. VSOs are able to provide very specific assistance where veterans live, work and go to school.
Helping veterans access the services they've earned gets to the heart of so many of our issues as a community. Attainable housing, homelessness, health care, additional schooling, mental health needs, and food and energy assistance are all issues with which veterans struggle. But there are programs and services available to lend a helping hand.
We're also seeing more and more veterans settle in northeast Washington upon retirement or after separating from service. On the West side of the state, we have Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Naval Base Kitsap, Naval Station Whidbey Island, Naval Station Everett, and Fairchild Air Force Base.
In Eastern Washington, we have Fairchild Air Force Base, which maintains 450 miles of roads and ensures the operability of 24 facilities within the 550,000-acre Colville National Forest as part of the its Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school.
Our state, and our region, have a long history of supporting our Armed Forces. I am working hard to make sure we continue that support for those who served and sacrificed to protect the liberties and freedoms we enjoy every day.
Veterans need quick, thorough and responsive assistance in accessing the services they've earned. I'm all for telling our veterans how much we appreciate them. But actions speak louder than words. I urge the Legislature to pass HB 1448 so that we can show local veterans that they've not been forgotten.
(Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, is the Minority Floor Leader and serves on the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee.)