By Assemblyman Chris Edwards (R-AD-19)

Those who have answered our nation’s call to serve in the United States Armed Forces are patriots. They made a commitment to their country and gave years of dedicated service at home and abroad, often at inhospitable locations among unfriendly locals.  The Executive and Legislative Branches of the Nevada state government enthusiastically supported an array of veteran initiatives during the 2015 Legislative Regular Session.  The Legislature passed several measures with widespread bipartisan support and Governor Sandoval eagerly signed them into law.

First, we paved the way for a long overdue Veterans home in northern Nevada.  The biennial Capital Improvement Program includes authorization for the State Board of Finance to issue $14 million in bonds and $34 million in direct expenditures to construct it.

This will be a welcoming home to provide northern Nevada veterans the same outstanding care as our veterans receive at the Veterans Home in Boulder City.  For veterans in northern Nevada who may have hesitated to move south over 400 miles away to the Boulder City Veterans home, the Northern Nevada State Veterans Home will provide veterans access to a high level of care closer to friends and loved ones.  I am proud to have supported the project.

When we picture a veteran, we often focus on the men who have served. However, 15 percent of our all-volunteer military are female. Many women service members deploy to the most dangerous locations, make the same sacrifices, take the same risks and suffer the same casualties and fatalities. The full impact and effects of these deployments on our women service members and veterans are not fully understood.

I worked with my legislative colleagues to create a Women Veterans Advisory Committee in law. This committee will work to identify and highlight specific issues faced by female veterans and provide information about services available to them. The information collected will be used to make recommendations to the Governor, the Legislature, the Department of Veterans Services, or other entities to improve veterans services for our women patriots.

The passing of a veteran is a sad occasion that deserves proper reverence. Governor Sandoval advocated for a comprehensive bill to establish a procedure to ensure proper interment of honorably discharged indigent veterans at a national cemetery or a veterans cemetery.  And, recognizing that some veterans and their families desire to conserve water and upkeep, the measure allows them to choose attractive, drought‑resistant xeriscaping of the area immediately above and surrounding the remains of the veteran.

The measure also authorizes the Governor to honor a deceased member by naming a State building, park, monument, bridge, road, or other State property after him or her if the person was a Nevada resident killed in action. The measure also makes sure that veteran-related issues will always be a part of future legislative discussions by designating the third Wednesday of March during each regular session of the Legislature as “Veterans Day at the Legislature.”

Attorneys often want to help veterans with their legal needs. They did not have a workable way to be matched up with those who need such services. Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt championed a proposal creating the Office of Military Legal Assistance that will coordinate pro-bono services for veterans using hundreds of volunteer lawyers across the state.

The Legislature approved this Office with bipartisan support and Governor Sandoval signed it. This type of legal counsel may be especially beneficial to veterans worried about protecting their disability benefits.  A new law protects these benefits from being subject to division or assignment by court for an alimony award or spousal support unless there is a valid premarital agreement.

After their service, many veterans wish to start or continue post-secondary education. Veterans and their spouses may receive priority consideration for the Teach Nevada Scholarship Program providing aid for students pursuing teaching degrees through recently passed legislation. There will also be an emphasis on encouraging our State colleges and universities to foster a culture recognizing and supporting veterans including extending to five years from two years the time period a veteran is eligible for resident or in-state fee charges.

Veterans often proudly display their honorable service or awards through special license plates. The Silver Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal with a valor designation can now be so recognized. Additionally, the handicapped symbol may be placed on special military license plates such as the Pearl Harbor, Purple Heart, or Congressional Medal of Honor plates allowing use of accessible parking and exemption from certain parking fees.

Some veterans may wish to designate their veteran status on driver’s licenses or other recognized State identification. Legislation was approved to allow veterans to use evidence besides the “DD Form 214.” A veteran applying for a commercial driver’s license will also be exempted from the driving skills test if the applicant has suitable experience in the military driving such vehicles.

Transition to civilian life may also be challenging for veterans. The State encourages employers to hire them by offering some tax incentives. Businesses that adopt hiring preference policies for veterans or their spouses may be able to take certain deductions from the Modified Business Tax as an incentive for hiring veterans unemployed for at least three months. Both the veteran employer and the employer benefit. A true win-win situation.

Nevada’s veteran community needs will continue to change. Their elected representatives want to adapt policies and programs to meet those changes. So, the state will work to identify them and provide veterans information addressing issues such as employment status, funding of programs and services, military sexual trauma, and women veterans issues. Information will also be reported to the Interagency Council on Veterans Affairs and to the Legislature due to new laws passed this spring. This data should help us to serve our State’s veteran community and active members of the Armed Forces more effectively in the future.

I take great pride in my responsibility as a legislator to create sound public policy that will benefit Nevada’s veterans today and in the future. Veterans have answered the call for us. We in the Legislature and Governor’s mansion will continue to do our part for them.