Show your gratitude by helping returning soldiers and their families
Last week, American troops began the first phase of withdrawing from Iraq. They have moved out from that nation's cities and, under a U.S.-Iraqi agreement, all troops will be out by the end of 2011.
As thousands of soldiers return home to Washington, it will be important within our communities that leaders, businesspeople, neighbors and friends not only welcome them with open arms, but help these men and women transition into the next phases of their lives.
A struggling economy awaits our returning soldiers. Many will need jobs to support their families. As a small business owner, my personal experience has been that veterans and their spouses make great employees. They bring with them a work ethic, loyalty, an understanding of teamwork, and worldly experiences to the table. Hiring a qualified veteran is one way to strengthen your work team and show appreciation for his or her service.
Helping veterans and their families find program resources is another way to show our debt of gratitude. A great resource is the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. Its Web site, www.dva.wa.gov, provides a wealth of information regarding benefits and services to veterans and military families, including counseling, employment, education, health care, and free or reduced passes to state parks, ferries, fishing and hunting licenses, and motor vehicle licenses.
Some veterans wanting to continue their education may be concerned about accessibility and affordability to our state's colleges and universities. It was my honor to introduce and pass legislation three years ago that provides tuition waivers for veterans. At a time when tuition costs are rising, this is a valuable benefit for returning soldiers.
Tuition waivers are also allowed for a child and the spouse of an eligible veteran or National Guard member who became totally disabled or lost his or her life while engaged in active service. This year, we expanded that eligibility to adopted children and step children.
I was also pleased this year to support passage of House Bill 1478. This measure allows deployed military personnel to renew their vehicle registrations and have that registration year start on the date the expired license is renewed. This effectively makes the renewed license useful for an entire 12-month period.
The Legislature also approved two veterans' measures I co-sponsored. House Bill 1050 removes roadblocks for veterans seeking employment or a job promotion with state or local municipalities. Senate Bill 5481 (I co-sponsored the House version) allows unclaimed veterans' remains to be transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a final and honorable military burial.
We owe our veterans and their families an enormous debt of support and gratitude for their service to our nation. Their dedication and sacrifices have preserved our ability to live, work and raise our families in a free nation.
Soon our soldiers will be returning home from a long and hard-fought conflict. Whether it is offering a ride to the doctor, providing a job, or showing them and their families where to turn for resources, let us all do our part — no matter how great or small — to ease and welcome their transitions back to civilian lives.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.