Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle is proposing a package of new state benefits for veterans. “Veterans have a right to understand what kind of leader I will be if elected governor,” Nussle says.

Nussle’s plan includes free vehicle license plates for decorated veterans, free in-state college tuition for returning soldiers who’ve won special military recognition and discounted property tax bills for disabled vets over age 65.

Nussle held news conferences today (Thursday) in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines on the sites of veterans memorials, as veterans who support his candidacy stood behind Nussle. “I’m pleased today to announce what I call the ‘Hero Initiative,'” Nussle says.

“We’re standing here with heroes, people who have taken time away from their careers, their businesses, their families, their communities in order to serve us and we need to provide them with respect but we also need to understand that creating opportunities for them is also very important.”

For the estimated 200 decorated Iowa veterans and the spouses of Iowa soldiers who’ve died while on active duty since 9/11, Nussle proposes free in-state tuition at Iowa, Iowa State, UNI or the 15 area community colleges. “The reason this is important over and above the GI bill is I want them to connect to Iowa,” Nussle says. Nussle contends many Iowa soldiers leaving active duty in the next few years will find that an incentive to return to Iowa rather than settle elsewhere. “By investing in a veterans, they will continue to invest in Iowa,” Nussle says.

In addition, Nussle proposes eliminating the vehicle license fees for the roughly 3,000 Iowans who’ve received the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart or the Bronze Star — or those who’ve been Prisoners of War. “Whenever I pull up behind a veteran with one of these special tags at a street light or stop sign…I kind of feel like I want to meet ’em and say ‘Thank you’ and I know there’s a lot of Iowans who want to just meet them and hear their story and understand their service and the sacrifice that they made and this is a way to identify who they are, so that we can just give that special kind of thank you,” Nussle says.

The third Nussle proposal would discount elderly disabled combat veterans’ property taxes — equal to percentage at which the military has calculated their disability. “I believe this is…the least we can do as Iowans to respect our neighbors who have served,” Nussle says. This would be on top of the already-existing property tax credit for veterans.

Nussle’s staff estimates this so-called “Hero Initiative” would cost the state about $850,000. This past spring, Iowa legislators and Governor Tom Vilsack approved free in-state tuition for the children of Iowa soldiers who’re killing while on active duty and they also established a first-ever benefit for injured soldiers and their families to cover travel and other family expenses during the soldiers’ recovery and rehabilitation.