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Local lawmaker proposes bill to change veteran designation

Published: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 10:31 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 11:22 a.m. CDT
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(David Dolmage/Daily News)
State rep Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton and Keith Thorpe, the assistant to the Veterans Affairs Director look over the Iowa state code during a VA board meeting Wednesday.

Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, met with members of the Veterans Affairs Commission on Wednesday to get input on a proposed bill that would change the veteran designation under the Iowa law. Breckenridge was approached by a woman who was upset she was unable to receive a veteran designation on her driver’s license, and therefore wasn’t eligible to receive 10 percent off at Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer.

Under current law, Iowa code states a veteran is defined as someone who has served, and been honorably discharged during a conflict. The conflict dates cover wars that have involved overseas deployment of the armed forces, including the current War on Terror, which is still ongoing. Members of the National Guard are also eligible for a veteran designation if they have more than 20 years of service with the guard, or if they have been completed a minimum of 90 days of active federal duty. The veteran designation confers a number of benefits to individuals, including VA benefits, pension benefits and numerous discounts where veterans are recognized. Without the designation, veterans are unable to join the American Legion as well.

Breckenridge was contacted by a Jasper County resident who has 17 years of service in the National Guard, and was forced out of the organization after she had been passed over for a promotion to major due to a lack of a college degree.  

“I want to do what I can with this guidance, and assist them and help them out in any way that I can,” Breckenridge said. “I want to make sure that these changes meet their needs.”

Several of the Veterans Affairs Commissioners were sympathetic to the request, but Commissioner Sue Springer objected. Adding the “V” designation to Iowa driver’s licenses would constitute fraud in her opinion.

“I think you are opening a huge can of worms, you are changing this and giving that person a veteran status, they are not a veteran,” Springer said. “They are not a veteran, they never have been and they never will be.”

In Springer’s eyes, adding the designation to Iowa driver’s licenses would amount to falsifying a federal document. Commissioner Fred Dimon doesn’t see it that way, he said state documents differ from federal documents, which led to a testy back and forth between Dimon and Springer until Dimon finally told her, “Well, I don’t care” in response to her claims.

Changing the state’s veteran designation to include members of the armed forces who served in non-conflict eras would potentially put the state at odds with federal policy. Keith Thorpe, the assistant to the Veterans Affairs director said he’s seen both sides of the policy. Thorpe was on active duty during Vietnam, but he served in the reserves for years without ever being called up, and lacks the veteran designation.

“If I spent 18 years going to that place down by Maytag Park that’s a little different than someone who went to Vietnam,” Thorpe said.

Kurt Jackson, the director of the Jasper County Veterans Affairs office, said it was only in the last year the policy had changed to allow individuals who had served in the armed forces during peacetime to receive veteran benefits.

“Until recently you had to be part of conflict to get benefits,” Jackson said. “When I got out I was not considered a veteran.”

Breckenridge said he plans to do more research on the issue, but he’s considering drafting a bill that would recognize those who’ve served their country honorably but are not currently considered veterans. When the legislators return to Des Moines in January he’s hoping to have a proposal ready.

“If someone has dedicated 17 years of service to their county and worked their tail off and supported their country we ought to be able to give that person a veteran designation,” Breckenridge said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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