State Lawmakers Set to Expand Veterans’ Benefits in 2008

November 19, 2007

Each year, Veterans’ day provides us with a chance to reflect on all that our brave soldiers, past and present, have done for our country – how they have served selflessly to ensure the freedom of American citizens. In talking with veterans in East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford during Veterans’ Day observances, I was again reminded of what a tremendous privilege and responsibility it is to represent these courageous men and women as Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Veterans Affairs Committee. As we ready for the 2008 legislative session, our committee will build on past successes and work to expand several benefits and services to ensure that Connecticut’s Veterans, along with their families, are properly cared for and never forgotten.

One issue that I have repeatedly fought for is expanding local property tax exemptions, which have not been changed since 1986. I am pleased that the committee will once again take up this imperative issue during the 2008 legislative session. Under current law, veterans are eligible for a $1,500 exemption only after serving at least 90 days of wartime service. I believe it is past time to expand this exemption to all veterans.

In addition, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, of which I am a Ranking Member, is considering several additional reforms for 2008 that I support. Among these, is a proposal to expand the existing tuition waiver for veterans attending state colleges and universities. Presently, members of the Connecticut National Guard are only eligible to receive a tuition waiver for associate and bachelor degrees. This session our committee is looking to include graduate degrees and to waive all student fees for National Guard members to help them in their pursuit of higher education.

The proposed agenda also requires all licensed health care providers in Connecticut to accept TRICARE, the military health insurance program. There are reports that not all doctors are accepting TRICARE because of low reimbursement rates.

Additional proposals include a new micro-loan program to help veteran-owned businesses, as well as legislation that works to help businesses owned by disabled veterans qualify for and be granted more state contracts. Similar programs for businesses owned by women and minorities already exist in Connecticut and I believe we should extend this assistance to our veterans.

Finally, the Committee will work to increase state aid for the estimated 4,000 homeless veterans in Connecticut. Through supportive housing and other assistance programs, we must protect those who have protected us, by making sure every veteran in our state has a roof over their head and a place to call home.

I am also encouraged by the launch of a Veterans Advocacy Unit within the office of state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. This unit will enable veterans and active duty military personnel to speak directly and confidentially with an attorney for legal advice about benefits, consumer protection, employment and other issues. Veterans who need this assistance can call the Attorney General’s Office at (860) 808-5318.

As the 2008 legislative session approaches, I am confident that our veterans will receive the assistance they have rightfully earned, and I look forward to working with my fellow committee members from both sides of the aisle on each of these important initiatives.

I encourage all of you to lend your voice to supporting these issues, and to keep our veterans and brave soldiers in your thoughts and prayers every day, just like we do on Veteran’s Day.