A pair of new bills in the state Legislature from Houston County lawmakers propose changes that might be important to female veterans and some Georgia National Guard members.
A bill from state Sen. Larry Walker III, R-Perry, proposes a new office that would focus on outreach to Georgia’s female veterans. State Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, wants to expand HOPE scholarships to more Georgia National Guard members.
“We feel like there needs to be a focus on the needs of women veterans and we want to put the spotlight on that more,” Walker said, of his Senate Bill 108.
He listed areas where female veterans might face different challenges than their male peers: health care, career advancement and child care. And an issue that’s gotten attention in Washington, D.C.: a rise in the rate of suicide among female veterans.
The Georgia Department of Veterans Service favors the bill. Part of the department’s job is to help veterans, no matter their gender, get access to veterans benefits.
Assistant Commissioner Daniel Holtz said that the department has seen across the board a mistaken impression among a lot of women veterans that they’re not entitled to some benefits.
So part of the job of the new office would be outreach: letting female vets know there are benefits out there to help them with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.
And another would be to make sure there’s a female ear to listen when female veterans need to talk about issues that disproportionately, or intimately, affect them. A big one, said Holtz, is military sexual trauma, the formal term for sexual assault or harassment in the armed forces.
“There are concerns there about making sure that females who may have been exposed to that know that they are eligible to apply for VA benefits and assistance to deal with the after-effects of those kinds of things,” said Holtz.
Many states already have similar offices that specialize in serving female veterans, according to the department.
Blackmon’s House Bill 222 applies to Georgia National Guard members who serve in the state but live in another state. It would give those service members access to HOPE scholarships and grants to help pay for college.
“We already cover the four branches of the military under this code and this adds guardsmen and reservists,” said Blackmon.
The bill would probably apply to a very small number of people, but it is a meant as a way to help make National Guard service as attractive as possible. A state House military study committee recommended the change.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee