Keam's Legislation Helps Make Virginia a Veteran-Friendly State
By: Jackie Bong-Wright
Virginia is on its way to become the nation’s most veteran-friendly state soon–helped in part by Delegate Mark Keam’s key legislative accomplishment in the 2011 General Assembly. The state legislature passed his bipartisan House Bill 2279. On March 31, Governor Bob McDonnell signed it into law at the U.S. Army’s Fort Lee Command.
Keam (D) declared the law “provides opportunities for our bravest men and women, who wore the uniform, to transfer their skills to secure employment in the civilian work force so they can continue to serve our nation by saving lives in our local communities.”
HB 2279, which is supported by the American Legion and the Virginia Healthcare and Hospitals Association, takes effect on July 1. The law requires the Virginia Commissioner of Health to consider relevant military training, experience, and education when evaluating an applicant for certification as a civilian Emergency Medical Technician. It also helps those with advanced military training qualify for the highest EMT positions available through maximum reciprocity between federal and state certification requirements.
Likewise, this law waives the one-year residency requirement for veterans and their spouses who need to qualify for in-state tuition. It allows the Department of Human Resource Management to offer voluntary TRICARE supplement health coverage for state employees who are veterans of the Armed Forces. It also extends the expiration date of certain licenses or registrations held by the spouse of a service member when stationed overseas.
Governor McDonnell remarked, “Virginia has moved further to becoming ‘America’s Most Veteran-Friendly State.’ The Commonwealth is home to 327,000 active-duty military members and family members, the second largest active-duty military population in the nation. In addition, over 823,000 veterans call Virginia home, the 7th greatest number in the country, and by 2016, it is projected that Virginia will be home to the fourth-greatest amount of veterans nationally.”
Senator Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) said one of the other bills will provide veterans a free copy of their vital records to be used to determine eligibility for state or federal veterans’ benefits. Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) added, “State employees who elect to enroll in TRICARE will benefit from the convenience and savings of payroll deduction for TRICARE supplemental coverage on a pre-tax basis.” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli concurred 2011 has been a good legislative year for those who have served in the Commonwealth and the country. “I look forward to working with the governor’s office and the Virginia Department of Veteran Services to make 2012 even better,” he said.
It was noted that Governor McDonnell served 21 years in active duty and in the reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1997. He comes from a family of veterans. His late father was in the Air Force. His daughter, Jeanine, served in the Army, including a year in Iraq, and his father-in-law served in the Marines during World War II.