Following the release earlier this month of its “RhodeBack Home” report, which analyzed current services and benefits for Rhode Island’s veterans and proposed new ones, members of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs today submitted a package of legislation and resolutions stemming from the analysis.
The bills are designed to assist with the reintegration of veterans back into society through increased access to benefits, state purchasing preferences for veteran-owned businesses, increased access to educational opportunities, and streamlined availability of essential medical and human service benefits.
Senator Walter S. Felag, Jr. (D – Dist. 10, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren), Chairman of the Committee Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs , noted how the Senate’s work coincides with efforts on the federal level to streamline the veterans service process and improve the quality of and access to veterans benefits. The Senator said that that much of the legislation recognizes the unique asset that Rhode Island’s veterans are to the state’s economy.
“Our colleges and universities accept credits for course work taken at other schools. It only makes sense that they accept credits for military coursework and training as well,”Chairman Felag noted, referring to one of the legislative items. “By accepting this training for academic credit, we’re giving returning veterans a well-deserved head starton furthering their education.”
The legislative package introduced today includes the following items:
Veterans Strategic Service Plan. Chairman Felag has introduced legislation which would require the Division of Veterans Affairs to work in conjunction withthe Statewide Planning Division to convene a variety of state agencies to develop,maintain and annually update a five-year department-wide Veterans Strategic Service Plan (VSSP). The VSSP would analyze the current state of issues related to veterans and offer a measurable action plan to improve them. Areas that would be included in the VSSP include: access to benefits, veterans employment, veteran-owned business growth, educational attainment, job training, behavioral health issues, long-term care, criminal justice, and homelessness.
The VSSP would be required to be developed with input and guidance from the veterans’ community itself, and would result in more efficient and coordinatedprovision of services to veterans.
Education Assistance for Combat Veterans. Legislation introduced by Vice Chairwoman Erin P. Lynch (D – Dist. 31, Warwick) would direct the state Board of Education to establish a range of new benefits and preferences for veterans within the state’s higher education system. The board would be asked to create rules for evaluation of a student’s military coursework and training to determine whether academic credit can be awarded for such experience. The Board would also be asked to develop a reverse-transfer policy for credits the student mayhave earned at Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island to beeasily transferred to the Community College of Rhode Island toward the pursuitof an Associates Degree.
Lastly, the legislation would ask the Board to develop, in coordination with the Adjutant General of the National Guard, a registrationpreference for combat veterans when enrolling in classes that immediately placeveterans “first in line” when registering for classes at the state’s public institutions of higher education.
Addressing Homelessness among Veterans. Senator Juan M. Pichardo (D –Dist. 2, Providence) has submitted a Joint Legislative Resolution that wouldallocate $1.75 million to agencies throughout the state to complete 69 housingunits to house homeless veterans and their families. The funding would help build10 housing units in Westerly and 59 units at sites throughout Providence.
Veterans Voice on Interagency Council on Homelessness. Senator Pichardohas also sponsored legislation to add a formerly homeless veteran and arepresentative of the US Veterans Administration to the state’s InteragencyCouncil on Homelessness and its advisory committee.
Veteran’s Guide Book and Online Resources. Chairman Felag has alsointroduced legislation requiring the Division of Veterans Affairs to produce acomprehensive Veterans Pocket Guide of Veterans Services, along with an onlineapplication to access benefits, contingent upon receiving public and private grantfunding.
Additionally, committee members have introduced eight resolutions that were the result of the analysis contained in its “Rhode Back Home” report. The resolutions request that:
- Congress expand funding for community based veterans programs;
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- The Division of Veterans Affairs study various programs to increase awarenessand access to veterans benefits;
- The Secretary of State study establishing a registry and identification program to expand consumer awareness of veteran-owned small businesses;
The Department of Labor and Training study expedited state professional certifications and licensure for veterans; The Department of Human Services provide enhanced behavioral care services and benefits for Rhode Island veterans; Additional support be given to expand District Court’s Veterans’ Court statewide; the Department of Human Services provide enhanced in-home long term careservices for Rhode Island veterans; and
The Division of Veterans Affairs study implementing a Veterans administration child care development program in Rhode Island.
The Senate is also working together with the Governor’s office to develop legislation that would give veteran-owned small businesses entities (VOSBE) a preference in thestate purchasing process, akin to the benefit that is awarded women-owned and minority-owned businesses. Doing so would ensure that a percentage of state purchases arededicated to promoting in-state business that are owned and controlled by veterans.
Each of the five pieces of legislation and eight resolutions are sponsored and co-sponsored by members of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs, which, in addition to Chairman Felag, Vice Chairwoman Lynch, and Senator Pichardo, includes: Secretary David E. Bates (R – Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, EastProvidence), Senator Marc A. Cote (D – Dist. 24, North Smithfield, Woonsocket), Senator Paul V. Jabour (D – Dist. 5, Providence), Senator Christopher Scott Ottiano(R – Dist. 11, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton), Senator Ryan W. Pearson (D – Dist. 19,Cumberland, Lincoln) and Senator Leonidas P. Raptakis (D – Dist. 33, Coventry, EastGreenwich, West Greenwich).
President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D – Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) observed: “Rhode Island veterans have given so much to our country and our state, and the Senate is grateful for their courageous service.
This legislation is about demonstrating Rhode Island’s gratitude to our veterans and helping to ease the transition back into civilian life. I thank Chairman Felag and the members of the Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee for their dedication to these important issues.”