With the Fourth of July approaching, we are in the midst of preparing for parades, cookouts and fireworks with our friends and family to celebrate our country’s declaration of independence from the British crown in 1776. This action was a bold move 238 years ago, and it showed the rest of the world what the average citizen was willing to do with self-determination. The following seven years were a difficult struggle for freedom where almost 25,000 patriots gave their lives so this country could remain free.
This spirit of sacrifice remains strong in our country to this day. Ohio has the sixth largest veteran population in the United States. Currently there are an estimated 900,000 veterans living in the state of Ohio. Of that number, almost 650,000 have served in or in support of a theater of combat. As Americans, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to these men and women who left their homes and their families to serve this country. We should not, however, simply leave our expressions of gratitude at a passing, “thank you for your service.” As a member of the General Assembly, I have sponsored and supported legislation to help our veterans with their housing, education and employment.
Recently, Governor Kasich signed into law House Bill 85, which I drafted with Representative Lou Terhar of Cincinnati, to help our disabled veterans stay in their homes longer by reducing their property tax burden. This bill increases the homestead tax exemption for 100 percent of disabled veterans from the standard $25,000 deduction, to $50,000, and the idea was brought to me by the VFW and American Legion in Gahanna. This change corrects a long standing short coming of the state by finally offering property tax relief to America’s most severely disabled veterans and is a simple way to honor their service.
Currently, Ohio law allows veterans and their dependents to receive in-state tuition at state colleges and universities, regardless of their home of record. This simple law incentivizes the veteran population to come to Ohio’s institutions of higher education and lets them get more out of the GI Bill and other veteran education benefits. Unfortunately, this law does not extend the same preferences to veterans during the application process.
Last year, a veteran who grew up in Westerville, but was stationed in Colorado, called me and told me he was waitlisted at one of Ohio’s public universities because they had too many out-of-state applicants. Eventually, because of the bureaucracy, he was not accepted and decided not to return to Ohio. While this may have been an isolated incident, I wanted to make sure this did not happen to any veteran ever again, and I drafted House Bill 449 to exempt veterans and their dependents from any residency based restrictions or quotas when applying to Ohio’s public colleges and universities. Last month, this bill passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives and is expected to pass the Senate by the end of the year.
Our military’s professional and technical education is among some of the best in the world. These men and women work in their field for years in some of the harshest and most austere conditions imaginable and come back to Ohio with these skills looking for work. Unfortunately, some of the state’s professional licensing agencies would not accept their military training and would make them go back to school if they wanted to get their license. Along with Representative Wes Retherford of Hamilton, OH, I sought to require Ohio’s licensing agencies to consider a veteran’s military education when they applied for a trade license. Last November, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 98 in to law to correct this issue and veterans can now use their military experience to apply for state licenses.
These are a few examples of how my friends and colleagues in the General Assembly have honored the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans with the resources available to us. However, legislation is not the only way to help these men and women who gave so much for us. This year, consider working with veteran service organizations like the USO assembling care packages to service members stationed overseas. Attend a steak fry at your local VFW post or American Legion hall and listen to the stories the veterans have to tell. Volunteer at the Veteran’s Administration entering data or escorting veterans with mobility issues. With America’s wars winding to a close, it is time to move past a simple “thank you for your service” and move towards Lincoln’s promise “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow and his orphan.”