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News Analysis: Veterans Benefits - New Policies in Iowa

posted on May 22, 2008 at 5:21 PM

Yeager: Right now we turn to Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa to get an update on some trends that are in motion. Kay, about a month ago you sat in that chair, I sat in this chair, we had a conversation about the end of the legislative session, talked about winners and losers and you named one group that was a pretty big winner and that was veterans. Why was that?

Henderson: Well, one of the reasons perhaps is because about a quarter of a million Iowans are veterans. I don't think any of us really realize the breadth of the number of people who live in this state and have a military background. The other reason is because there are several prominent members in the statehouse who have a background as a veteran.

We have Jack Kibbie who is the Senate President who you'll be chatting with in a few moments. You have a couple of folks who have served in the current conflict and you have a couple of folks who are pretty high ranking in the National Guard. You also have folks who have come from the Vietnam era, served in the military then. And so I think it was a confluence of that and also a realization that past efforts had really focused on helping soldiers who were coming home from the current conflict.

There seem to be a shift at the statehouse to focus on the needs of all veterans of all wars. For example, there is a bill that has been passed that requires every one of Iowa's 99 counties to have a veteran's service coordinator to enable veterans living within each county in Iowa to fully qualify for all of the veterans benefits that they have. And that is believed to be a means by which Iowa will get more federal support for the veterans that live here and it may in turn be a little bit of property tax relief for county property taxpayers who are paying the bill for things like mental health care for veterans today.

Yeager: Had that bill ever come up before in discussion? Had they talked about it and just not gotten it done? Why now then if it hasn't come up before?

Henderson: I think, again, you had some folks in leadership roles, the legislature also created two committees, one in the House and one in the Senate, the solely focus on veterans issues. And so I think for the first time this legislature carved out a niche for legislation of this type.

Yeager: So, you talk about one in every county.

Henderson: For example, I'm told by people in Lynn County that the neighboring county doesn't have a veterans service coordinator so residents in that neighboring county call the Lynn County coordinator and are saying I'm having trouble negotiating the VA, can you help me and that veterans coordinator says, yes, I'll help you but I'm really being paid by the people in Lynn County. So, it's an issue of fairness as well for veterans who aren't getting the services that, you know, perhaps their neighbors in the next county over are getting.

Yeager: Was there any resistance in trying to get that bill through?

Henderson: No, absolutely none.

Yeager: What were some other things that came up?

Henderson: They made some changes in regards to a bonus that was paid to Vietnam veterans, there were a few because of residency requirements in the original legislation they changed those and sort of reconnoitered things so that more of those Vietnam era veterans would get their bonuses.

Yeager: And that was the extent of that. McKinley Bailey was leading some of the efforts.

Henderson: Correct, and he's an Iraq War veteran.

Yeager: What type of response has he gotten since he's been back and in the House? Has there been any notice in changes with him and the way he approaches his job?

Henderson: Well, he was elected to the legislature after his service in Iraq. I think perhaps the more interesting story is a guy named Ray Zirkelbach who was part of that Iowa National Guard unit which served longer in Iraq than any other military unit. And he came back after an absence of two years and then became the leader of the veteran's affairs committee in the House.

And so I think his story and the way he relates to legislators is a bit more interesting because his service was so much more recent and he had been known around the statehouse by people before his service.

Yeager: So, that's a different perspective that those folks have. One other thing I want to talk about here in our final minute, Kay, is the Iowa Veteran's Cemetery. That is something going near Van Meter, that's been a work in progress for quite some time.

Henderson: About a couple of years. They dedicated the ground I believe in July of 2006. They sold medals to sort of do some fundraising for the project. A Des Moines developer named Bill Knapp granted the state, gave a gift of some land over by Van Meter.

If you drive on Interstate 80 in the central Iowa area you will now see signs at the Van Meter exit directing you to the Veteran's Cemetery. It's not quite done, the land, there's still a little bit of work to do and I believe they hope to in the next few months have a dedication ceremony there.

 

Tags: cemetaries Iowa news veterans

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