Summit’s goal is to make sure state is friendlier to veterans
If you ask most of our 430,000 veterans, they’d say Maryland needs to be more veteran friendly.
Of course, that term means different things to different people. Last year, one bill proposed discounted fishing licenses for Purple Heart recipients, and another required people in health care occupations to take courses in military culture. Both bills were well intentioned, but probably not the most important issues for vets.
There are hundreds of veteran groups, and they all have their top priority, whether it’s flying the POW/MIA flag, promoting a tax-free military retirement or veteran college funds, among others. But the veteran community has never spoken in a single voice.
What we need is a veterans agenda for Maryland: prioritized issues within broad categories, a menu and map for legislative action that will have vigorous support from the veteran community. It’s a big goal, but very achievable. We had to find the veteran groups, draft a starting list of issues, categorize them, and figure out what’s already in law.
As vice chair of the Maryland Senate Veterans Caucus and a combat veteran, I brought together a team of people with a passion to make this happen.
We needed a list of veteran groups. We quickly found 100 traditional outfits like the American Legion and VFW. As our team grew, that list grew to over 150 with non-traditional groups like the Wounded Warrior Project and Travis Manion Foundation.
We invited them all to attend a veterans summit in Annapolis on Nov. 7 as the voice of their veteran community.
We needed a list of issues to start the discussion. We reviewed every veteran bill passed in every one of the other 49 states during 2016, and those 360 bills distilled down to 135 distinct ideas. They neatly categorized into five groups: health, educa- tion, jobs, taxes and personal matters.
We needed to know current Maryland law. We searched and found over 1,000 mentions of veterans (and variations) in 200 sections of 30 law articles. For the first time, we’ve compiled a complete library of state and local laws that directly target the veteran community. We found that some counties are more veteran friendly than others, too.
We needed a plan, since asking a hundred veterans to solve 135 issues is a lot for one day. We will break them up into work groups to identify the top issues in one of the five areas, and then brief the entire summit. Work groups will use those categorized issues as a starting point from which to add or subtract from, then prioritize. Each issue will be considered for impact on every member of the veteran family, including National Guard, reserve, active duty, spouses, children, disabled, senior, retired and the honorably discharged. Before they leave, every participant will have an opportunity to vote on every issue in every category.
The end goal of the veterans summit is to identify the top issues within each category, skip what’s already done, and come to consensus on priorities. The veteran community will finally speak with one voice to the legislature.
I’ve spoken about this with many legislators, and they’re genuinely excited about it. If we’re lucky, dozens of other legislators will use it to file bills with people they don’t often work with, across party lines and between the House and Senate.
My hope is the veterans agenda will form the core of the Veterans Caucus mission for years to come, and make Maryland the most veteran friendly state in the Union. I want to give our veterans a strong voice in Maryland. Semper fidelis.
Steve Waugh, Lusby
The writer is a Republican representing St. Mary’s and southern Calvert in the Maryland Senate.