With the legislative session in full swing, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) welcomed veterans’ groups to the capitol on Wednesday, hosting a listening session and policy roundtable with leaders from the American Legion and the Joint Leadership Council of Veteran Services Organizations.
Speaking with the group, Cox took ideas from the groups for making Virginia the nation’s friendliest state for veterans.
Home to more than 800,000 veterans, Virginia has one of the nation’s largest populations of active duty and former armed services personnel. Between its numerous bases, the presence of the Pentagon and other leadership infrastructure, as well as a vibrant veteran-led contracting community, the Commonwealth serves as a national draw for those who have served the nation.
Cox said Virginia has a responsibility to serve them.
“I have always been a staunch supporter of our veterans and am proud to have championed over 130 pieces of veterans legislation during my time in the General Assembly,” said Cox. “As Speaker, I will continue to support veterans and active duty military and their families by pushing for legislation that shows Virginia is welcoming to the men and women who serve our great country.”
Members from the Joint Leadership Council, a state-backed veterans advocacy organization, spent the morning discussing thee group’s seven legislative priorities with Speaker Cox. The JLC’s 25 members represent veterans around the Commonwealth and advise the General Assembly, the governor, and the Department of Veterans Services on legislative and policy matters.
The seven legislative priorities discussed for this year include:
- Ensuring that all Virginia National Guardsmen are paid at least the E6 rate.
- Passing income tax relief for low-income veterans with a 100% service-connected disability.
- Approving a pilot program allowing active duty personnel stationed overseas to vote through electronic ballot return, eliminating votes delayed or lost in the mail.
- Passing car tax relief for veterans with a service-connected disability.
- Increasing state tuition assistance for Virginia Guardsmen seeking degrees who are not currently covered by state and federal education assistance programs.
- Expanding VMSDEP benefits to more veterans with a service-connected disability.
- Phasing in tax relief for veterans with military retirement income up to $40,000.
Wednesday’s visit coincided with the American Legion’s Day on Capitol Square, an annual visit in which the organization’s members brief lawmakers on issues of importance to former servicemembers. Joining Cox from the American Legion’s Virginia chapter were Department Commander, Tom Queck, Department President, Rose Moore, National Auxiliary Legislative Chairman, Lisa Chaplin, and the Department Legislative Chairman and their JLC representative, Rick Oertel.
Cox said hearing from veterans directly was vital to helping lawmakers understand how Virginia could better serve that community of more than 800,000.
“As a legislator one of the most important parts of our job is hearing directly from subject matter experts on issues that impact the people we serve,” said Cox.
“I value opportunities like this to meet with the men and women who have served our country with honor and distinction to learn where the state is succeeding and where we can make improvements when it comes to veteran related issues.”
The measures, among others, will be considered during the legislative session, scheduled to last through mid-February.