Since 9-11, nearly 11-thousand Iowans in the Air and Army National Guard have been activated. More than 7,500 were deployed to Iraq, some multiple times.
For tonight’s conversation we’re trying to address three questions:
What has the war effort done to Iowa?
What can the state do to ameliorate the impact?
What will it cost?
Rep. McKinley Bailey is in his first term at the Iowa Legislature. A veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, he is sponsor of a number of measures intended to help Iowa veterans.
The legislation includes the creation of tuition college waivers for veterans, strengthening of requirements for county veterans’ offices and the establishment of lottery games to finance veterans programs.
Beck: Since 9-11, nearly 11-thousand Iowans in the Air and Army National Guard have been activated. More than 7,500 were deployed to Iraq, some multiple times. For tonight's conversation we're trying to address three questions. What has the war effort done to Iowa? What can the state do to ameliorate the impact? And what will it cost? Representative McKinley Bailey is in his first term in the Iowa legislature. A veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, he is a sponsor of a number of measure intended to help Iowa veterans. The legislation includes the creation of tuition college waivers for veterans, strengthening of requirements for county veterans' offices and the establishment of lottery games to finance veteran programs. Thanks for joining us this evening. Tell me a little bit about your history and your service.
Bailey: Well, I joined the Army in 1999, spent five years in the military, four of them as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. And I worked in tactical signals intelligence collection which sort of amounted to eavesdropping, I guess, trying to find out where the bad guys were at and how to find them and get them. I came on, it was all sort of a surprise. We were on alert when September 11th happened and it kind of caught us all by surprise but we jumped into it and did our best and it was a difficult situation. I don't regret any of it.
Beck: After serving two tours then when you came back did that spur your interest in joining the legislature? Was that part of the reason you ran for office?
Bailey: I think that was part of it, I felt like just government on all levels really wasn't living up to the sacrifices that were being made to maintain it and sustain it and that was definitely a motivating factor. When I came home I went to the University of Iowa shortly after I got out of the military and I started the University of Iowa Veteran's Association there and saw a real need for outreach. There were a lot of programs, a lot of assistance available to veterans but they just had no idea where it was or how to connect with it. And so that was a driver.
Beck: So, someone would come home, a service member would come home and there might be services available to them but if they didn't know how to access them they weren't getting them?
Bailey: Exactly, and that is a problem that we see -- probably on a state level our biggest problem here in Iowa as far as addressing the needs of our veterans go.
Beck: You were in an active duty situation where you were in the active Army. We have a lot of reservists that are serving or National Guard members. When they return is it even more difficult?
Bailey: I think it's definitely more difficult. When I came home from Afghanistan, which is where I went first, the adjustment is difficult, you're always wondering where your rifle is at and so on and so forth because for eight months it never leaves your side. And so there's issues like that but your friends, the soldiers that you serve with become like family and when you come home they're still there. And for a reservist when they come home they get home, they get off the airplane, they demobilize and then that support network is gone overnight. All these people who have become like brothers and sisters to them are no longer there. And that makes the transition all the more difficult.
Beck: What kind of stories are you hearing? What is the impact on Iowa as these young men and women try to transition back into life?
Bailey: Well, I think that you see a lot of just emotional problems and a lot of times they end up in alcohol and drug abuse. One of the things that they teach you when you're in the military, they kind of make you think that you're invincible and so you come home with that mentality and then it turns out there are issues. But you're invincible, you know, there's nothing wrong with you and so instead of maybe going and getting that psychological help that you need you turn to drugs or alcohol and that is a real issue I think that a lot of our combat veterans who have been in some pretty intense combat are facing.
Beck: Judging from the legislation you've worked on some of the issue is when the soldiers are ready to turn to help, they've decided they do have a problem that it was scattered and it wasn't always available in all 99 counties or at least not the same kinds of service in each county. Is that part of the problem?
Bailey: That is a huge part of the problem. If you live in Iowa City or in Des Moines or in the Nebraska area in western Iowa you have some pretty solid support from the federal government there. It's not perfect, there's issues but at least it's there. And if you get out into rural Iowa there's just not a lot of support there. So, someone decides okay, I'm ready, I need help and a lot of times if you don't connect them quickly they'll give up and they'll go back to sort of where they were at before. And so trying to get these people access to services out in rural Iowa is a big challenge.
Beck: What does the legislation do that works on that? It tries to put a veteran's affairs officer in every county?
Bailey: It would put a veteran's service officer in every county for at least 20 hours a week and as the population increases then that number increases. And we have veteran's services officers in most of the counties in Iowa, a lot of them are there for just four or six hours a week and they aren't very well trained. Some of them are, we have some veteran's services officers in the state who are doing absolutely amazing things. And we have others that just aren't up to par.
Beck: So, the legislation would mandate that they be there for 20 hours and there is also some training aspects to it, correct?
Bailey: Definitely some training to get these veterans linked up with the federal services and federal benefits that are out there. Right now in a lot of our counties the veteran's services officer can help them out with emergencies through county funds paid for by property taxes. But as far as identifying this veteran has this service connected issue whether it's traumatic brain injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and then getting them signed up for a pension and compensation for health benefits, that's just not happening in a lot of counties.
Beck: In these counties where we need these new officers or we need this new training who pays for that? Would that be a state appropriation?
Bailey: The plan now -- and the bill has passed out of the Veteran's Affairs Committee and it's in the Appropriations Committee -- will be a shared cost. The state will spend $1 million a year and will give $10,000 to every county to help them pay for the training and the increased hours and then the counties will have to pick up the rest of the cost. And so for a lot of the counties that are already doing the right thing this won't be much of an impact. But for some of the other counties who are lagging in this area they will have to spend some more money. But what we've seen is that in counties where you have a qualified veteran's services officer and they start getting these veterans signed up for federal benefits the cost to the county and the state as far as Medicaid dollars and general assistance, general relief actually goes down when they start to receive a check for $1200 to $2000 every month from the federal government.
Beck: My next question was going to be what is the cost if you don't do this? Do these people then, as you've talked about, might have a substance abuse problem or unemployable at that point, homelessness? Are we seeing some of that?
Bailey: We are definitely seeing that and we see that what happens in that case is that the cost falls back onto the property taxpayers, to the state taxpayers and so part of what we're doing is trying to get this cost -- number one, get the veterans signed up for what they have earned and what they need and number two, shift that cost back to the federal government because this was, after all, their doing.
Beck: That being said then is the state putting enough in and do you believe the federal government is putting enough in?
Bailey: I think that the state is making some huge improvements. There is no doubt about it. If we get some of the things that we're looking at passed and put into law this year and these appropriations made we'll have moved light years forward on this issue. Does that mean that it's enough? It seems like for some things there is never enough. But I will be very happy with the progress.
Beck: One of the pieces of legislation you have spearheaded and has now been signed by the Governor was to create a couple of lottery games, some scratch tickets to raise money for the Veteran's Trust Fund. There were those who allotted this as a wonderful thing to do for veterans because this fund was established but there had not been money flowing into it. Others were sort of critical of the fact that it took a lottery game to put money in there, that why aren't we willing to pay for something that we think is important right out of the general fund?
Bailey: And what my reasoning for doing this was quite simply the funds had been around since 2003 and in those five years we've seen just two appropriations to it. If the legislature had followed through with its intent the fund would have $25 million in it, this would not be needed. And so there is 150 of us and we have seen both parties sort of not live up to what needs to be done and so I figured that this was a way to make sure that no matter who is in charge of the legislature that this is a priority and that that fund gets some funding every single year from now until it's full.
Beck: Any concern that those who serve in the military and often times come from classes in which they need financial help to either go onto school or they're finding it difficult to get a good career so they go into the military to give them some training, are the same people possibly buying lottery tickets? So, you're asking a certain class of people to support the family members that have gone off to war by purchasing lottery tickets? Again, is there an upper class that is not touched by the war?
Bailey: Well, I think absolutely there is a huge percentage of the population that is not touched by the war that has no, they don't even understand the consequences of it. When we think of the war the general public I think thinks of the consequences, they think of the death toll, perhaps how much money is spent. Right now on the defense spending appropriations there is no concept of the families that are broken, the divorces, the impact on these soldiers when they come home after being gone for two years and their children don't recognize them, don't know who they are. There's so many other costs associated with this that the general population is totally out of touch with. So, that is true but I think that what we've seen in other states who have created a lottery ticket like this is that people who don't normally buy lottery tickets, perhaps this exact same class of people that you're talking about, they don't understand everything that is going on, the support is there and that is the one great thing that we can say about the public right now is that regardless of how they feel about the war they are supportive of the troops and they'll go buy that lottery ticket that they normally wouldn't.
Beck: So, you have seen support from even those who disagree with the policy of the war?
Bailey: Oh yeah, absolutely. When I came home it was almost overwhelming to me. That was one of the most difficult parts of my transition was the overwhelming support and it was too much because I really just sort of felt like I went there and did my job and the real heroes don't come home or they come home with broken minds and broken bodies and I made out okay.
Beck: Iowa's mental health parity law covers biologically based illnesses. It does not include a certain class of illnesses, one being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because that is not considered a biologically based illness. Is that a problem as the soldiers return home?
Bailey: I think it is and we passed a bill out of the veteran's affairs committee that basically provides full mental health parity to combat veterans, that it would require that of every insurance policy sold in Iowa. It's unfortunate that we even have to talk about that because it really should not be the job of private insurers to cover these issues. That should be something that the federal government is doing and the further out into rural Iowa that you get the more you see that they're not living up to that. And so we kind of acknowledge that the federal government is not doing everything that it should and this is sort of an avenue to hopefully address it. It's something that we're working on and it's a problem.
Beck: Is there one other thing that you may not get done this session that you'd like to see done or something you want to work for for a future year?
Bailey: Well, I think that we're going to continue to work on some sort of education benefit for veterans. I just don't think that it's probably going to fit into the budget this year. But we've made huge steps, you never get everything at once. But that will be something that I continue to look at especially for you have a number of veterans from previous conflicts often times whose GI bill has expired, you're only eligible to use it for ten years after you leave the military and so a lot of them go into a job in one trade or another and as they get older their body won't hold up in the factory any longer, a number of different reasons. And so we'd like to give them a little bit of help to go back to tech school maybe.
Beck: And so this would be an Iowa bill?
Bailey: This would be specific to our state.
Beck: And maybe they want to use it but just didn't do it when they were young.
Bailey: That's right.
Beck: Alright, thank you so much for being with us Mr. Bailey, I appreciate it.
Bailey: No problem.