Sum­mit’s goal is to make sure state is friend­lier to vet­er­ans

The Enterprise - - Community Forum -

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.

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