Governor Tom Vilsack asked legislators to make a package of veterans benefits the very first bill to clear the 2006 Iowa Legislature and his wish is coming true today.

This morning, the Iowa House approved the package, which includes 10-thousand dollar payments to Iowa Guard and Reserve soldiers who are severely injured in combat. In addition, the plan plunks two-million more dollars in a state program that gives first-time homebuyer grants to Guard and Reserve soldiers coming home after active duty.

Representative Royd Chambers, a Republican from Sheldon, was first to speak.
Chambers, a member of the Iowa Air National Guard, just three months ago returned from a deployment. Representative Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, backs the bill’s benefits for veterans, but Smith says the state should start planning beyond the short-term. It does look like we’re long-term in the War on Terror,” Smith says. “As a result, we need to be looking at care of these veterans, long-term.”

Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, complains that the bill doesn’t ensure the veterans benefits are tax-free. “We would not want this to be taxed,” Mascher says. Republicans in the House say they’ll deal with the tax issue in another bill. The Iowa Senate is scheduled to endorse the package of veterans benefits early this (Wednesday) afternoon.