State representative hosts Family forum
September 5, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Setp. 5, 2012) -- Virginia Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Terrie Suit hosted a military Family roundtable discussion here Aug. 30 at the Regimental Club.
It was an opportunity to discuss some of the programs the commonwealth has established for transitioning, jobless and homeless veterans, and participating community members were asked to share their ideas for additional services that would help military troops and their Families while residing in the state.
"A key goal that Governor (Bob) McDonnell shared with me when he brought me onto his team (in April 2011) was to make Virginia the most military- and veteran-friendly state in the nation," Suit said during her introductory remarks.
"That's a pretty tall order, and we started checking off a lot of the 'low hanging fruit' projects that we thought we could easily do early on. We realize, however, that you're the ones out here experiencing those things that real military Families face. We need you to help us pick the high fruit … the stuff we really need to reach for to make life better for our service Families."
Sharing her background as an Army dependent, which included relocation nine times during her grade-school years, and her current relationship to the military as the spouse of a retired Navy master chief, Suit said she shares the state's determination to decrease unnecessary hardships while increasing benefits for service Families.
"We have to recognize the reason why our troops are here -- to train and prepare for that next war-fighting mission," Suit said. "The last thing they need is the distraction of being concerned that their Families are having problems and are not receiving the support they deserve."
Suit and members of her staff then described some of the military-friendly measures that have been accomplished over the past few years. Some of the examples include the following:
• Redefining in-state tuition requirements so more military Families will qualify.
• Reciprocity of professional licenses (i.e., real estate, general contracting, beautician, cosmetology) acquired in other states if all safety and general education requirements are met. The state is still working on agreements for highly skilled professions like nursing, teaching, etc.
• Easing DMV requirements so military spouses with a power of attorney would be permitted to register a vehicle.
• Joining the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children that, among other benefits, gives schools the authority to waive specific courses required for graduation if similar course work has been completed at a previous school (for other details, visit www.mic3.net).
• Military Family retreats for children and spouses.
• Assistance with veterans hiring preference ratings and retraining opportunities for former military members who can't find work or whose qualifications in the military aren't easily transferrable to the civilian job market.
• An education program for Virginia businesses so they will know how to compare military-related skills to highly desired corporate experience.
Given the opportunity to share their comments and concerns with the visiting Virginia secretary, the Team Lee members in attendance addressed several topics ranging from differences in middle and high school grading scales that affect honor roll placement to possible tax breaks for military retirees -- an issue that's complicated by its $200 million price tag, according to Secretary Suit.
One military spouse voiced a concern about the "non-negotiable requirements" for attending one of the governor's schools -- an advanced education program for highly talented students. Another participant suggested allowances for school transfers in cases where the assigned school can't meet specific academic requirements that parents deem to be important.
"This is exactly the type of feedback I need," Suit said as the roundtable session came to a close. "Through meetings like this, we empower families so they can make a difference in their community."
Suit's final words of advice were simple and to the point.
"Challenge the system," she said. "Too often, we as enlisted spouses and even other segments of the military community assume that we're not allowed to speak up or will cause some sort of trouble if we voice our opinion about an issue. If you don't say anything, nothing will change and the same issue
will just keep happening again and again. Let's fix it together, hand in hand as a community."
To read more about the military friendly initiatives supported by the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, visit www.vahs.virginia.gov.