More than 250,000 veterans call Arkansas home. That equals more than 8 percent of our entire population.
As we approach Veteran’s Day, the 89th General Assembly would like to extend our appreciation to every single Arkansan and their families who have made tremendous sacrifices for our country.
Veterans’ affairs have become a top priority for the 89th General Assembly. This is a very personal issue for this body, as 13 of our own members have also served in the U.S. military. During the regular session, we passed 19 bills dealing either directly with active military or retired veterans.
We began with their long term care as many of our veterans are beyond retirement age.
The demand for quality long term veteran care in our country is growing at an astounding rate. The nation faces the largest aging veteran population in its history. Today close to 40 percent of all veterans are over the age of 65.
There are thousands of veterans who chose to spend this part of their lives with "comrades" from former active-duty. But currently our state has only such facility available. The veterans’ home in Fayetteville is a full time nursing care facility with 108 beds.
The Little Rock veterans’ home closed last year because extreme disrepair in the facility.
That is why the 89th General Assembly made it a priority to not only find funding for a new veterans’ home, but to do extensive research on the exact needs of our veterans and how the state can best care for them.
With unanimous support, we passed Act 165. This law is the enabling legislation to build a new 150-bed facility for our veterans. We also agreed divert $7.5 million from our state surplus to help build the home. The Arkansas Veterans’ Home Task Force was established this session to study possible site locations.
The task force has reviewed 30 possible sites in recent months. The selection committee narrowed the choices down to four. The possible locations now include Benton, Fort Smith, Jacksonville and Russellville. The task force submitted a report Arkansas Legislative Council asking that Veteran’s Home Subcommittee be established to determine the final site selection.
The 89th General Assembly passed additional bills to ensure that our veterans can find a job when they return home, that their children receive the education they deserve, and that their vote is protected.
When it comes to employment, we passed legislation allowing vets who were denied a position by a school district to be given documentation on why they were not selected. A similar bill extends veterans hiring preference to state agencies and institutions of higher education. If an examination or evaluation is given during the hiring process, veterans will be given extra points in his or her earned rating. And if the veteran is not selected, they will be given copies of the evaluation to find areas of improvement.
We also passed legislation to protect a service members last vote. If any member of the military was serving oversees and voted by absentee ballot but then is either killed in the line of duty or passes away before election day, Act 466 ensures their vote will be counted.
And another piece of legislation creates a smoother transition for children of our military families in the event their moms or dads are transferred to another base.
During the interim, we will continue our work on site selection for a new veteran’s home and study any other issues that may be facing our veteran’s today.
We thank every Arkansan who has served. We hope the recent legislation passed and our continued work in the General Assembly reflects our heartfelt gratitude.