By Ryan Murphy
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Efforts to expand job opportunities for veterans are receiving overwhelming support in the General Assembly this session, but veterans’ requests for tax exemptions and easier access to retail discounts have gained little traction.
Virginia’s moves to expand education and employment opportunities for veterans come on the heels of high veteran unemployment figures. The national unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan topped 12 percent late last year.
More than a dozen veterans-related bills have won approval from both chambers of the General Assembly. They include:
- Senate Bill 527, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Bumpass. It would give hiring preference to National Guard members seeking state jobs.
- House Bill 253, by Delegate Christopher Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Under this measure, the spouses and children of veterans killed in the line of duty also would receive preferential consideration when applying for state jobs.
- HB 938, by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge. It would allow service members to count their military training, education or experience in qualifying for occupational licenses or certification for state-regulated professions.
- HB 195, by Delegate Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac. It would require public colleges and universities in Virginia to award academic credit for educational experience gleaned from military service.
- HB 194, also by Lewis. It would require the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to consider the military experience of applicants seeking a commercial driver’s license.
The assembly also seems likely to approve legislation to fund four additional representatives for veteran disability claims. The positions are contained in identical bills: HB 1121, which was introduced by House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Hopewell, and unanimously passed the House; and SB 254, which was filed by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, and unanimously passed the Senate.
From 2005 to 2010, disability claims by Virginia veterans increased 42 percent, causing a backlog. The proposed legislation would increase the number of claims agents in the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to 36, up from 32. It would mandate a ratio of one agent for every 23,000 veterans. (The current mandate is one agent for every 26,212 veterans.)
But not everything came through for veterans this session.
Four bills died in committee that would have allowed veterans to indicate their military status on their driver’s license. Veterans wanted this to make it easier for them to receive armed forces discounts offered by retailers.
Three bills dealing with income tax exemptions for veterans were carried over to the 2013 legislative session.