Caleb S. Cage: Veterans issues in the State of the State
Last week, Gov. Sandoval presented his State of the State address at the Nevada Legislature. The address is an opportunity for the governor to provide his perspective on the progress that has been made over the last two years and to outline his vision for the next two years prior to the upcoming legislative session. For those of you who did not see or read the address, I am pleased to inform you that Nevada’s veterans fared very well.The first sections of the speech were concerning all Nevadans, including its veterans, and focused on education, health care, economic development and other important topics. Later in the speech, though, Gov. Sandoval spoke of veterans specifically when he took a moment to reflect on his friendship with Gunnery Sgt. Ben Stryffeler, a Carson High School graduate who recently returned from Afghanistan. I know Ben well dating back to my interview with him for the book, “Battle Born: Nevada War Stories,” which I worked on for Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, and I was happy to see his service recognized by the governor.Following his recognition of Gunnery Sgt. Stryffeler, the governor took a moment to lay out some of the new policies that he will pursue during this legislative session. “In honor of those who serve in the Armed Forces,” the governor stated, “my budget contains funding for additional veterans service officers.” These service officers will be in addition to the two service officers he approved through the Board of Examiners last year. He went on to say that his budget also “includes money to begin the first phase to build a new, stand-alone veterans home in Northern Nevada, to complement the veteran’s home in Boulder City.” This has been an enormous priority within the veteran community for as long as I can remember, and I know that it will be well received.It was not just in his speech where Nevada’s veterans did well, though. As I have mentioned in recent columns, there is other significant, veteran-related legislation that will be pursued during this session. Much of this will be pursuing through our agency policy bill, Assembly Bill 58. First, we will be asking the Legislature to consider changing the name of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services to the Department of Veterans Services. The name change will have an important impact since it will create a stand-alone agency, recognize our tremendous growth over the last decade, and provide more substantial presence within state government for veteran initiatives. Although this might seem like a small change, I believe it will have a significant impact.Assembly Bill 58 also will create the Office of Veterans Policy and Coordination within the governor’s office. Because of the hard work through the Green Zone Initiative, this new office will serve as a statewide coordinating body to help improve the delivery of veterans services at all levels. If created, this office will be responsible for developing veterans policy, coordinating veterans services and opportunities, and communicating those improvements and opportunities to the broader public. Our office also is proposing legislation that will work in conjunction with the governor’s announcement regarding a veterans home in Northern Nevada. First, if passed, our bill will authorize the construction of a new home in Northern Nevada. Second, it will create a gift account for that home just like the existing gift account for our current home, which is key to our efforts to provide the highest level of quality of life and care for Nevada’s veterans.Finally, if passed, our bill also will create a pass for Nevada State Parks for disabled veterans. This will provide access to all disabled veterans for parking, camping and all other facilities in our state parks for a small annual processing fee. We have heard a lot about this over the years, and I am glad to work with the director of Nevada’s State Parks to achieve this agreement.As I wrote about last week, these ideas are merely our agency legislation and not the entirety of the veteran-related bills that we will be following this session. There are many more out there being drafted now and I have been glad to work on them. I look forward to working toward accomplishing our many goals during this legislative session.• Caleb S. Cage is the Executive Director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Governor Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog.