Bill aims to attract veterans through incentives

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | MAY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Recent attempts by the Iowa Legislature to make Iowa a desirable place for veterans to retire their combat boots might not be enough, some vets say.

In the past year, Gov. Terry Branstad has made repeated efforts to draw veterans to Iowa. One of these efforts was his call for a comprehensive package of incentives for veterans during his Condition of the State address in January.

Senate File 303 was approved by a 94-2 vote in the Iowa House April 28 after being unanimously approved by the Iowa Senate. It aims to attract newly discharged military veterans and their families to live and work in Iowa. According to the U.S. Department to Veteran Affairs, there are more than 233,000 veterans in Iowa.

The bill is intended to embrace Branstad’s Home Base Iowa initiative, which offers financial and professional incentives to veterans.

Though this is considered a step in the right direction, some Iowa veterans don’t think it is enough.
David Johnson, a certifying official for GI Bill benefits at the University of Iowa, said he believes the measure is a good start, but it is not enough.

“I think the governor and Legislature are missing out on a brilliant opportunity,” Johnson said. “The smartest incentive we can offer to veterans is to expand our in-state tuition for students on the GI Bill.”

The GI Bill in general is a financial support paid to veterans to aid scholarly endeavors.

Johnson said that currently, any undergraduate eligible to receive Chapter 33 — or post 9/11 benefits for those who served on active duty for at least 90 days after Sept. 11, 2001 — is automatically considered a resident and pays in-state tuition.

However, this does not apply to graduate or professional schools or veterans who are eligible for different GI Bill chapters, Johnson said. This means many veterans are unable to receive in-state status, leaving them with many expenses.

Johnson said the state could recruit substantially more veterans to Iowa if the Legislature relaxed its residency requirements for veterans going to graduate or professional colleges, as well as include veterans eligible in other GI Bill chapters.

“It’s a simple fix, but our leaders in Des Moines have failed to fix it,” Johnson said.

Mike Considine, the president of the University of Iowa Veteran’s Association, said he thinks the bill is good in a sense that Branstad is trying to take a stance on keeping veterans here in Iowa, but it could be improved upon.

“I would like to see in-state tuition for veterans across universities,” Considine said.

He said a great way to draw veterans to Iowa and keep them here is to offer in-state tuition for graduate students — even for out-of-state students. Currently, more than 500 student-veterans are enrolled at the UI.

The UI was ranked sixth in the Best Colleges for Veterans, according to U.S. News College Compass. A way to heighten that is for legislators to do more to help veterans seeking a college education, Considine said.

Gary Boseneiler, the director of Johnson County Veterans Affairs, said he is pleased Iowa is taking strides to incentivize veterans to live and work in Iowa.

He said other areas he’d like to see improved upon in further provisions are employment retaining, job placement, certification, and skilled-trade programs.

The bill’s provisions include preferential treatment for veterans by employers in the hiring process, state licensing boards being required to take into account skills learned during military service, colleges being required to report their policies on academic credit to veteran’s military experience to lawmakers, and the elimination of initial fees for issuance of license plates.

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