Making good on our obligations to those who served.
We’re living in an interesting moment when it comes to military service in America. On the one hand, four decades since the discontinuance of the draft and the transformation of the American military into a professionalized, all-volunteer force, the United States has arguably never had a better, more capable and effective fighting force. On the other hand, the actual share of our population who either currently serve or have served in the military has never been lower.
Here in California, we can be proud of the fact that we boast the largest total number of veterans of any state in the nation. It should also come as no surprise that upon completion of their military service, more veterans return to California (particularly Southern California) than any other part of the country. Our state is now home to more than 1.8 million veterans of all ages, and substantial levels of funding and other resources are allocated toward the support of veterans across a wide range of needs: employment, housing, behavioral health, rehabilitation, and many other areas.
And yet, on the basis of my own direct experience over four years of work, prior to my election in 2016, as the founder of a non-profit dedicated toward assisting veterans upon their return home from service, I can tell you that, with very few exceptions, these programs are falling well short of achieving their stated goals on helping veterans in their respective spheres.
That’s why, after my election to the State Senate in November 2016, I was so gratified to be named Chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. As Chair, I’m proud of the work that the committee got done. Legislatively, we moved a number of bills that improved the quality of programs and situations of veterans in the state, to include the legislation that I personally authored and ultimately moved to passage. Those bills included: new provisions for state employees serving in the National Guard or reserves to receive additional sick days if needed to address issues related to their service following return from active duty deployments; changes to California’s welfare code to ensure that military members and their families are not denied access to public assistance simply because they were redeeming the educational benefits they had worked so hard to earn; additional funding for Veteran Resource Centers at California’s 114 community colleges to ensure a more equitable and appropriate baseline level of services and support for veterans on every campus; the creation of a statewide program to guide and assist incarcerated veterans with preparing for their post-incarceration transitions; and an audit of the state’s Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) program to ensure that it was still providing the opportunities to veterans in business as originally intended.
And then, just as I felt like I was really getting rolling, and with a whole host of additional veteran-related initiatives in the works—to include augmentation and expansion of the states veterans’ courts, realignments in the state’s veteran employment assistance programs, and the whole Recall thing happened. When it comes to closing the current, still-too-wide gap between the typical rhetoric on veterans’ service and the quality of the actual programs to serve those who have served us, there’s still a huge amount of work to be done. I’m hopeful that, with your support, I will once again have a chance to be a part of that work at the legislative level.
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