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7/2/2013 Assembly adopts package of bills to assist veterans
Legislation increases access to benefits, services, educational opportunities

STATE HOUSE – For Rhode Island veterans – those already here and those who will be returning after their tours of duty – the General Assembly has passed a package of legislation that will assist with their reintegration into society, increase their access to educational opportunities and help them obtain essential medical and human service benefits.

“With the introduction of a package of veterans’ bills at the beginning of this legislative session, we made a commitment to do more, as a state, to provide support for the many military personnel and veterans, their families and their businesses,” said Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs. “With passage of those bills and their eventual enactment into law, the General Assembly is keeping its promise to provide veterans with the help they need and to recognize the unique asset they are to our state and the state’s economy.”

“As legislators, we act on many measures that we believe will improve our state as a whole and the quality of life of every resident,” said Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I believe the General Assembly can be especially proud of the legislation it has adopted this session that will ensure the best services for the state’s veterans and their families who have done so much for all of us, for the courageous men and women who have served their state and nation with dedication and honor.”

The legislation that has been approved by the Assembly and now heads to the governor for his action was introduced as companion bills in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Introduced as individual bills in the House, the bills in the Senate were part of a package to “Pave the Rhode Back Home” and resulted from a study and report on current and proposed services for veterans.

Veterans’ legislation approved by the General Assembly this session includes:

Veterans’ Services Strategic Plan: The legislation creates a 13-member Veterans’ Services Strategic Plan advisory committee that will be responsible for developing, maintaining and annually updating a five-year plan that includes goals and measurable outcomes to ensure that all departments of government deliver comprehensive services and support for veterans and their families.

The advisory committee would be composed of representatives of the Division of Veterans’ Affairs; Department of Human Services; Division of Planning; Board of Education; Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; Department of Health; Division of Elderly Affairs; Department of Business Regulation; Office of the Attorney General; Department of Labor and Training; Economic Development Corporation; Department of Education, and Office of the Secretary of State.

The VSSP to be established by the advisory panel 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, through the creation of a veterans’ committee comprised of no fewer than five veterans representing diverse interests and viewpoints.

Senator Felag sponsored the Senate bill, (2013-S0479B); Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) sponsored the House bill, (2013-H5860A).

Educational Assistance: The legislation calls for the establishment of veteran-friendly educational programs in order to allow service personnel returning from a combat tour to achieve educational attainment in an accelerated manner. The programs would be established to acknowledge a student’s military training and coursework.

Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) introduced the Senate bill, (2013-S0576B); Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown) sponsored the House bill, (2013-H5856A).

Pocket Guide of Services: The legislation directs the Division of Veterans’ Affairs to produce a comprehensive “Pocket Guide of Veterans’ Services” along with an online resource application of this information.

The Senate bill, (2013-S0577), was introduced by Senator Felag; the House bill, (2013-H6250), was introduced by Representative Fellela.

Service Member/Military Spouse Licensure: The act would make it easier to military service members and their spouses to obtain certifications and licenses to perform regulated professional services. It directs examining and licensing boards to accept education, training or service completed by an individual applicant as a member of the military toward qualifications to receive the license or certification.

The Senate bill, (2013-S0629), was introduced by Senator Felag; the House bill, (2013-H5712), was sponsored by Representative Gallison.

Military Service Credits: The act would require that state-run public higher education institutions adopt a policy and promulgate regulations to award educational credits to veterans enrolled in their institution for courses that were part of the student’s military training.

Senator Lynch sponsored the Senate bill, (2013-S0638A); Rep. Peter Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport) introduced the House bill, (2013-H5711A).

Support for the Homeless: The act would add as a member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness an ex-officio member from the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center who specializes in health care for homeless veterans. It would also add to the permanent advisory council members of the veteran community including housing providers and a current or former homeless veteran.

The Senate bill, (2013-S0498A), was introduced by Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence). Representative Martin sponsored the House bill, (2013-H5857A).

Among the other veteran-related bills approved by the legislature are:

(2013-S0480), by Senator Felag, and (2013-H5710), by Rep. Karen L. MacBeth (D-Dist. 52, Cumberland), will create two additional positions for providing assistance to the Adjutant General of the Rhode Island National Guard.

(2013-S0501aa), by Senator Felag, and(2013-H5612B) , by Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), will enact the International Emergency Management Assistance Compact into Rhode Island law. The act allows states that are a party to the compact to send personnel, equipment and commodities to help disaster relief efforts in other states and to receive such assistance if requested.

(2013-S0630A), by Senator Felag, and (2013-H5588A), by Representative Gallison, to eliminate the requirement of activation or deployment for state or federal service for recipients of the Rhode Island Military Family Relief Fund.

(2013-S0042A), by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), and (2013-H5165B) by Representative Gallison, to help active service members exit automobile and housing leases when they are moved to a different station or deployed.

For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457