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Legislature Addresses Issues for Veterans

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Help for vets, from a Seat in the House

I am writing this article at the conclusion of our Memorial Day Holiday that we have celebrated in remembrance of those members of our military who gave their lives in service to our country. The activities of the day brought to mind legislation that the Idaho legislature has enacted in support of our veterans.

This session the legislature passed three different pieces of legislation that continue our history of legislative support.  The bills enacted this session were Senate Bill 1043, House Bill 222 and House Bill 333.

Jim Livingston, a Sandpoint resident and Marine veteran, has been asking me for a couple of years to pursue getting the Idaho Transportation Department to offer veterans the option to have the word “veteran” or similar designation on their driver’s license. Such a designation has significant benefits to one who has served his country in the military.  In part because the Idaho Transportation Dept. is undergoing changes in their driver’s license process, we were able to accomplish this request of Jim’s this session.

The value of the designation honors veterans in several ways.

It formally recognizes their service with the special designation.

It enhances the ability to identify veterans who might not know they are eligible for VA benefits, and by doing so could potentially reduce the need for state-funded benefits for these veterans, particularly for Medicaid.

The designation also helps identify veterans to first responders and law enforcement personnel to assist in identifying health concerns such as post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The designation provides a convenient way to provide proof of veteran status and ensure veterans receive specialized services that might be offered, such as employment opportunities and merchant discounts that many businesses offer to those who have served in the military. 

As indicated above, the Idaho Transportation Department is currently undergoing revision of their driver’s license process to accommodate the designation but because of problems with programming the changes in procedures, they won’t be able to accommodate the VA designation until next year, when they expect the changes in programming to be implemented.

House Bill 222 provides for creation of a Veterans Recognition Fund that responds to a concern with the Idaho Division of Veterans Services having accumulated a cash reserve in excess of 20 million dollars.

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs makes a daily per diem payment to state veteran’s homes for each veteran resident; however, the Idaho Division of Veterans Service has accumulated a cash reserve because per diem payments for residents in our state veteran’s homes have not been matched with similar increases to the Division’s authorized expenditures.

In accordance with Public Law 108-422, the Veterans Health Programs Improvement Act of 2004, per diem payments cannot be offset or reduced by any other payments, such as Medicare and Medicaid, since the federal daily per diem payment is an extra payment to ensure veterans receive the highest quality of care possible in state veteran’s homes.

Some cash reserves are desirable to avoid cash flow problems, but given the size of the current reserve, the Division was directed by the legislature to prepare a “long-range proposal to maximize the use of existing fund balances for the support of all veterans as appropriate.”

The Division conducted an outreach effort with stakeholders resulting in a unanimous agreement that the best way to ensure that the state properly serves the greatest number of veterans was to use the bulk of the cash surplus to establish an endowment type fund that would provide sustainability of programs and services to veterans.

House Bill 222 meets that recommendation by creating a landing point to transfer an amount from the cash balance to secure the fund for the benefit of veterans and secondly, to establish an income fund to receive the interest earnings from the Veterans Recognition Fund. The interest earnings are to be used only to benefit veterans in Idaho, with priority given to activities that serve disabled veterans.  Only the interest received from the Veteran’s Recognition fund can be used for veterans benefits, thus keeping the Recognition fund in a permanent, revenue generating condition.

House Bill 333 was the formal appropriations legislation that transferred 20 million dollars from the Idaho Division of Veterans Services cash balance to the newly legislated Veterans Recognition Fund.

The above legislation continues Idaho’s support for its veterans and this Memorial Day Holiday seemed to be an appropriate subject for this issue of the River Journal as an additional reminder of the debt we owe to those who gave their lives in service to our country.

Thanks for reading!  As always, please contact me with issues of concern or questions relating to legislative activities.  I can be reached by mail at P.O. B0X 112, Dover, Idaho 83825, by phone at (208) 265-0123 or by e mail at: geskridge(at)coldreams.com

George

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Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

Tagged as:

veterans, HB222, A Seat in the House, HB333

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