By T. Anthony BellApril 1, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (March 31, 2011) - During a signing ceremony here today, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a former Army officer and a big supporter of military veterans, put his stamp of approval on 25 legislative actions that will benefit the state's large populations of current and former military members.
The outcome of the bills approved by McDonnell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, will include enhanced educational opportunities, hiring preferences for military experience when applying for certain state jobs and easier access to state services, among other benefits.
Flanked by his wife, Maureen, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, McDonnell signed the bills into law with about 150 people watching. They included Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee Commanding General, a handful of staff members, a large contingent of state legislators and 20 or so Fort Lee military members. McDonnell made his views about the newly signed bills clear after the ceremony.
"My goal is to make Virginia the most vet-friendly state in the nation," he said. "There are 814,000 vets in Virginia - that's more than any other state. We are taking another step toward that goal with the signing of this legislation today."
The bills signed by the governor include waiving the one-year residency requirement for veterans needed to qualify for in-state intuition; extending the expiration date of certain licenses or registrations held by the spouse of a service member when stationed overseas; allowing the state's human resources department to offer voluntary TRICARE supplemental health coverage for state employees who are veterans; and providing to veterans one copy, free of charge, of their vital records if the record will be used to determine the eligibility for state or federal veteran benefits.
Prior to the ceremony, McDonnell, perhaps speaking from his own experiences in uniform and reflecting on his efforts to honor those who serve, said much of the country's merits, including the legislative process itself, would not be a reality if not for the ongoing sacrifices of fighting men and women.
"We do a lot of work in the general assembly to put forth laws that are good and fair and just for our people," he said. "But if we don't have brave men and women in uniform who are willing to sacrifice and fight and train, be deployed and be away from their families, that are willing to preserve those civil liberties - to fight for our way of life, then what we do in Richmond and Washington are just idle words on parchment."
After signing the many bills, McDonnell said he chose Fort Lee as the signing location because it is in close proximity to the state capital but also because more than 30 percent of all Soldiers in the Army will receive some type of training here.
"I'm incredibly impressed with the marvelous growth and expansion," he said, referencing Fort Lee's Base Realignment and Closure-related growth that doubled its population and created the Sustainment Center of Excellence. "This is probably going to be one of the most-visited posts in the United States of America over the next few years. All the people who are involved in the logistics - the supply train - and related disciplines will come here for basic courses, advanced courses, refresher courses and individual specialty courses."
The Transportation and Ordnance schools have relocated to Fort Lee over the past three years and the Army Logistics University has been expanded.
The Commonwealth of Virginia, with more than 300,000 active duty personnel and their families assigned throughout its borders, also pushed through legislation last year that supports those who have served. Those measures included real estate tax relief for disabled veterans, waiving administrative fees for permits and application-processing for qualified veteran small business start-ups, and providing college admission assistance and improvements for veterans.