OPINION: Just wearing a uniform doesn’t make you a ‘veteran’
As a legislator representing a district with more veterans than any other in Alaska, I take very seriously my responsibility to look out for veterans’ interests. My legislative career has focused strongly on supporting veterans and their families, and my proudest duty has been as chair of the Military and Veterans Affairs, and Joint Armed Services committees.
That’s why I’m writing to let military veterans in Chugiak-Eagle River and around the state know about a bill that seeks to dilute the value of their service by expanding the definition of “veteran” in a way that most of them might not appreciate.
House Bill 194, introduced by West Anchorage Democrat Rep. Matt Claman, seeks to expand the definition of a “veteran” in state law to include those who had served in the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. It achieves that by aligning Alaska’s law with a section of federal law that equates “uniformed service” with “military service.”
Practically speaking, that would extend to those who wore USPHS and NOAA officers’ uniforms the same hard-won benefits granted to military veterans by grateful Alaskans. Those benefits are appropriately generous, and they include:
• A property tax exemption for the first $150,000 of the value of a disabled veteran’s primary home
• State job hiring preference of 5 percent for veterans, or 10 percent for disabled veterans
• A 5 percent preference to qualified veteran or disabled veteran bidders on public contracts
• First chance to buy unoccupied state residential land, and at a 25 percent discount
• Tax credits to an employer of up to $2,000 for hiring a veteran, or $3,000 for a disabled veteran
• Free registration of one vehicle for disabled veterans, plus access to veteran’s license plates, and driver’s licenses holding a veteran designation (a program I proudly introduced and got passed into law)
• Eligibility by a veteran or survivor for various veteran loans including $10,000 personal loans, $125,000 business loans, or $110,000 loans to buy or renovate multi-family housing units
• A $750 death gratuity to a veteran’s widow, widower or other survivor
• Four free death certificates from the Bureau of Vital Statistics
Documentation supporting Claman’s bill says it would add about 3,000 people to the approximately 77,000 Alaskans who are veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or Reserve.
Analysis by legislative researchers also shows that the added workload would stress the Office of Veterans’ Affairs, justifying an additional Veteran Service Officer — but the bill does not carry a means to fund this position. The free vehicle registration benefit would cost the state $280,000. The free death certificate benefit would cost the state from $6,000 to $8,000 per year.
While I value everyone’s service to our country, including those who wore a uniform in the Public Health Service or NOAA commissioned corps, there simply is a huge difference between service in a “uniformed service,” and serving in a “military service.” Just wearing a uniform does not make you a veteran.
They say a veteran is someone who once wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America, for an amount payable up to and including his life, if necessary. Military veterans’ willingness to put themselves in harm’s way sets them apart in a category and class distinctly above those who would benefit from the expanded definition that is the heart of this bill.
I have been working to rally state veterans to express their views on this bill, and call on everyone who wore the uniform to contact its sponsor and let him know what you think.
You can call HB 194 sponsor Rep. Matt Claman at 907-465-4919, or email him at Rep.Matt.Claman@akleg.gov. Please join me in helping to stop this misguided bill and defend the dignity and value of the hard-earned title of “veteran.”
Rep. Dan Saddler is in his fourth term representing Chugiak-Eagle River and JBER, and serves as Republican Floor Leader.