By: Don Schaible State Senator, District 31
Memorial Day began during the Civil War when people in a Waterloo, NY began taking the day off of work to decorate the graves of soldiers. This tradition spread to different areas of the country and later on was made a national holiday.
Published May 31, 2013
The fact that Memorial Day started with people simply wanting to honor those who had sacrificed their lives speaks volumes of the importance. Memorial Day wasn’t something initially established by the government, but a movement started by average Americans. There is motivation inside us as Americans to honor those who have defended our country and fought for our freedom.
Today and as I try to do every year, I had the honor to remember our fallen at the local Memorial Service at the Mott/Regent High School. Lynn Dill was the quest speaker and did a great job in his account of his service during World War II. I always find it fascinating how each story is so unique and the perseverance that was needed to get through the difficult times of war.
As far back as records show, we have lost 1,196,793 service members to conflicts and the sad part is that we are still losing men and women today. The numbers since the Korean War are; Vietnam War (90,220 lost), Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1,948 lost), Operation Iraqi Freedom (4,422 lost), Operation New Dawn (66 lost) and the current total of Operation Enduring Freedom (2,220 lost).
The last two sessions, I have had the privilege of serving on the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. I have enjoyed this committee and one of the best parts is to get very familiar with the military services of North Dakota. Not only the occasional visit to view their facilities and limited access to their technology and toys, which is very impressive indeed, but the chance to meet the men and women that serve this state. They have impressed me with their professionalism and dedication on every opportunity. This session we dealt with several bills and appropriations for our service personal and our veterans. The following is a recap of what was done for our veterans.
The tuition waiver was expanded for a veteran or for a veterans spouse and dependents, who at the time of death had a 100 percent service related disability. They will receive a 100 percent tuition waiver. Current statute defines a veteran for this purpose as 100 percent disabled.
$50,000 has been appropriated to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for the purpose of providing grants to assist in the identification of, and the provision of services, to North Dakota Veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam Conflict (One time spending). The Department of Veteran’s Affairs will provide a report to the budget section on the monies received and its use.
$250,000 has been transferred to the Veterans Postwar Trust Fund to increase the principle balance to help generate additional income for programs authorized by law to benefit and serve veterans or their dependents. Only the interest may be used to provide benefits from this fund and with the low investment rates and interest, this fund has not produced much return so increasing the principle was needed.
Provisions in SB 2127 allow private, nonpublic employers to provide an employment preference to a veteran or spouse of an honorably discharged permanent and totally service connected disabled veteran.
$50,000 has been appropriated to the Department of Veteran Affairs for the training of service dogs to assist North Dakota veterans having PTSD for the biennium. The Department of Veteran Affairs will report to the Legislative Management on the status of the service dog training program. The legislative management has been directed to consider a study regarding statutory changes to state income tax and property taxes, the provision of veteran focused incentives, assistance in obtaining or maintaining benefits and life enhancing services. The study also should look at all current state and federal benefits provided for veterans. (SB 2344)
National Guard members will receive enhancements when called to State Active Duty. For every two weeks of continuous State Active Duty, the state would provide the service member one hundred dollars to off-set the costs associated with maintaining their employee benefits at their work place. They also receive an enhancement of increased wages as per their rank.
Some rule changes were made to expedite occupational and professional licensure requirements for military spouses. This will allow boards to issues licenses to military spouses to practice their professions as long as they show proficiency and have been practicing two of the last four years and have been in good standing in another state.
Some additional ways that North Dakota is committed to showing its veterans and our men and women in uniform our appreciation in tangible ways, $600,000 was appropriated to continue the Veteran’s Bonus Program. An additional $110,000 was increased, for a total of about $2.5 million, to enhance the North Dakota National Guard Tuition Assistance Program. The program covers tuition costs for Guard members to participate in North Dakota post-secondary education programs. Additional appropriations of $130,020 to coordinate the ND National Guard Military Funeral Honors program, $83,160 for maintenance at the North Dakota Veteran’s Cemetery and $325,000 to assist veterans who are enrolling in North Dakota’s higher education institutions. North Dakota is proud to assist our veterans, spouses and military personal in any way that we can. The issue of veteran programs will be studied in the interim to see if there is duplication of services, the connection between state and federal programs and to see if there is gap in the services that we intend to provide. Are we providing enough services for our veterans? Probably not, but I feel some gains have been made in that area and the work will continue.
I would just like to take one more opportunity to personally thank all those that have served in our armed forces, and would like to say God Bless and Thank you.
Senator Don Schaible District 31 firstname.lastname@example.org