April 7, 2008

Governor Kaine signs legislation on military and veteran issues

From Staff Reports

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signs one of several General Assembly bills that will have a direct and indirect impact on Virginia Guard Soldiers, Airmen and their families April 4 at the Virginia War Memorial. (Photo by Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

RICHMOND Governor Timothy M. Kaine ceremonially signed several General Assembly bills that will have a direct and indirect impact on Virginia Guard Soldiers, Airmen and their families April 4 at the Virginia War Memorial.

The bills will provide support and assistance to military personnel, veterans and their families, demonstrating Virginia’s continued bipartisan support for active duty service members, Guardsmen and Reservists, veterans and their families.

“Our Commonwealth has a long history of being a military-friendly state, and today Virginia is proud to be home to over 245,525 military and Department of Defense civilians and 810,000 veterans,” Kaine said. “These bills take important steps toward improving the lives of those who have served or are serving our country, as well as their families.”

Among the bills signed was one to enact the Wounded Warrior Initiative, which requires the Department of Veterans Services to establish a program to monitor and coordinate existing mental health and rehabilitative services for veterans and their families and to expand public and private community services in cooperation with Virginia’s community services boards and the Department of Rehabilitative Services’ network of private providers. 

“The Wounded Warrior Initiative bill was one of the most important ones in the General Assembly,” said Del. Kirk Cox (R). “We felt there’s a gap in services for veterans with mental and physical health issues and sometimes those wounds don’t manifest themselves until later.”

Other legislation simplifies government processes for military personnel and their families and provides for changes to the Department of Veterans Services that will help establish eligibility guidelines for veterans and their dependants.

“On behalf of the Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard, I want to thank the legislature for their support of our military veterans in everything they do,” said Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia.

In addition to the signed legislation, the General Assembly has included funding in the 2008 Biennium Budget for the Wounded Warrior Mental Health Initiative, an expansion of the Shrine of Memory and the construction of the Paul and Phyllis Galanti Educational Center at the Virginia War Memorial. The budget is currently awaiting approval from the Governor.

The following legislation was also signed April 4:

-         HB 809 (J. Ward) permits the Board of Education to extend a three-year provisional  license an additional year for each school year or portion thereof for which a teacher is activated or deployed for military service. The bill provides that local school divisions may offer a similar extension to teachers holding three-year local eligibility licenses.

-         HB 798/SB 508 (Englin, Amundson, Northam, Whipple) provides that voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act who reside or are stationed outside the continental borders of the United States may receive their blank absentee ballots by electronic transmission. Present law allows these voters to request absentee ballots by electronic transmission. This bill covers the second step of sending the ballot to these overseas voters. The voted ballots will have to be returned by mail.

-         HB 2 (Tata, Poisson, Oder, Eisenberg, Watts) eliminates the one-time $10 surcharge imposed for issuance of special license plates for immediate family members of persons who have died in military service to their country.

-         SB 266 (Deeds) eliminates the one-time $10 surcharge for issuance of Purple Heart special license plates.

-         HB 229/SB 760 (Cosgrove, D. Jones, Bouchard, Wagner, Locke) changes the references under the powers and duties of the Commissioner of Veterans Services from the Secretary of Administration to the Secretary of Public Safety.  The bill requests the Department of Veterans Services to establish guidelines for the determination of eligibility for Virginia-domiciled veterans and their spouses, orphans, and dependents for participation in programs and benefits administered by the Department. Such guidelines shall meet the intent of the federal statutes and regulations pertaining to the administration of federal programs supporting U.S. Armed Forces veterans and their spouses, orphans, and dependents. The bill also clarifies that the purpose of the Veterans Services Foundation is to provide funding for veteran services and programs in the Commonwealth.

-         HB 475 (Cox/Brink) and SB 297 (Puller/Houck) requires the Department of Veterans Services, the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Rehabilitative Services cooperate in establishing a program to monitor and coordinate mental health and rehabilitative services support for Virginia veterans and members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia residents in the Armed Forces Reserves not in active federal service.

-         SB 188 (Herring/Blevins) allows a court to enter a temporary order modifying custody or visitation based on a parent's deployment. Upon the motion of the deploying parent returning from deployment, the court shall hold an expedited hearing within 30 days. At the hearing, the nondeploying parent bears the burden of showing that reentry of the custody or visitation order in effect before the deployment is no longer in the child's best interests. The bill also requires that any temporary custody or visitation order entered pursuant to this Act shall provide that (i) the nondeploying parent shall reasonably accommodate the leave schedule of the deploying parent, (ii) the nondeploying parent shall facilitate telephonic and electronic mail contact between the child and the deploying parent, and (iii) the deploying parent shall provide timely information regarding his leave schedule to the nondeploying parent.

-         SB 580 (Edwards) Replaces the Secretary of Administration with the Secretary of Public Safety and the Commissioner of Veterans Services as ex officio members of the board of trustees of the Virginia War Memorial Foundation. Under the bill, the Department of Veterans Services replaces the Department of General Services in providing administrative support to the Foundation.

-         HB 474/SB 662 (Cox, Stosch) requires the State Comptroller to advance a loan of $5.97 million for the state share of the construction of an educational wing for the Virginia War Memorial and the expansion of the Shrine of Memory to include Virginians killed in action in the War on Terror, in the form of a short-term treasury loan, with no interest, upon certification by the Governor or his designee that $2 million in private funds have been raised, pledged, or expended to support the projects. The State Comptroller shall advance $500,000 of the $5.97 million upon certification that $1 million in private funds have been raised, pledged, or expended for the educational wing.

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