A bill to expand financial assistance to some veterans will proceed next year.
Rep. Earl W. Jaques, D-Newark, on June 22 told representatives of Delaware veterans organizations he will work to beef up the coffers of a trust fund set up to assist the state’s military personnel.
However, he will not move legislation to help certain veterans until the next General Assembly session.
The Delaware Veterans Trust Fund helps honorably discharged veterans with money to cover some medical needs, home repairs, utility costs, education programs and homelessness support.
Jaques’ proposal, HB 381, would have extended aid to veterans who received “general discharges under honorable conditions," and the surviving spouses of those veterans and honorably discharged service members.
The bill stalled in the House Veterans Affairs Committee, primarily because of arguments that expanding the program would deplete the fund to the point it would not be able to help veterans who apply for assistance.
When established in 2013, the legislature mandated the state provide $25,000 in annual funding. Feeling this was not enough money, a separate, nonprofit group, the Friends of Delaware Veterans, was established the next year. The volunteer group under the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs was created to raise money and to be its publicity arm.
According to data from Larence Kirby, executive director of the Commission on Veterans Affairs, almost $83,000 was granted by the trust fund in 2017. Almost $58,000 came through private donations.
“Proposed changes to the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund may result in granting difficulties without additional fiscal notes and citizen support,” Kirby noted in a white paper presented at the meeting.
Both the Department of Delaware American Legion and the Delaware Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars support the bill.
In March, VFW State Adjutant Paul R. Phillips Jr. penned a letter to state legislators describing the case of a woman veteran whose request for critical child care funding was denied because she had received a general discharge, although it was under honorable conditions.
In another case, an active duty veteran died in October and his wife was denied help to pay an overdue power bill because the fund is not set up to help surviving spouses, Phillips wrote.
While all parties at the meeting ultimately agreed on the need to support surviving spouses and veterans with under honorable conditions discharges, differences remained about a way to increase the money in the trust fund to cover them.
Jaques said veterans service organizations have contributed to the fund, but have not pledged to do so on a continuing basis. He suggested the VSOs commit to putting up part of their profits from video gaming machines on their property.
Revenue from the state-owned machines helps support service organizations with cash they can use for scholarships and their own community programs, including those that assist veterans.
“My question is, is there a percentage of that we can earmark for the Veterans Trust Fund on a routine basis?” Jaques asked.
In return, Jaques said he would work during the next session, beginning in January, to provide additional state money.
“My proposal is that whatever that [amount] is, I will fight to get the state to increase that more than double,” he said. “I have no trouble expanding the definition [of discharge types] but it does cost money. If I expand it without the money, then we’re in trouble.”
Jaques suggested Richard Santos, state American Legion adjutant, and VFW legislative liaison Marc Garduno consult with their groups and return in September for a follow-up meeting.
Jaques would have to reintroduce his legislation next year since HB 381 expires June 30 with the current legislative session’s end.
At the end of the meeting, Garduno said he was not entirely happy but felt some progress had been made.
“My thoughts are that it’s disappointing that it all boils down to money instead of doing what’s morally necessary and just, but at least there’s a direction we can pursue which might lead us to the desired end state,” he said.
“At this stage of seeking passage of legislation to broaden the scope of eligible veterans and spouses, all parties need to work in unison for the betterment of the Delaware veteran families,” he said.
“Today’s meeting was productive toward the American Legion’s goal of inclusion of those veterans with a general discharge under honorable conditions and possibly increase awareness of, and funding for, the good work of the DVTF.”