A number of bills dealing with veteran’s issues have cleared the 2008 Iowa Legislature. Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, says many of those changes have been "long overdue."
Kibbie was a tank commander in the Korean War and he was awarded the Bronze Star. Kibbie’s proudest of the 2008 legislature’s effort to improve service at the county veterans affairs offices so more federal benefits are secured for Iowa’s veterans. "I could give you an example of my own county…With a change in the executive director (of the Palo Alto veterans affairs office) our county went from $600,000 coming back to Palo Alto County to $2.4 million," Kibbie says. "A lot of that money saves county and state dollars and a lot of that has to do with health care."
Representative Ray Zirkelbach, a Democrat from Monticello, is an Iraq War veteran who is part of the Iowa National Guard unit that served longer in Iraq than another other. Zirkelbach, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, says the legislation that’ll get more highly-trained people in the county veterans services offices is groundbreaking. "Having trained people there and staff that knows what’s available for veterans and how to get them those services and the federal assistance they need will be huge for Iowa and it’s economic development, too," Zirkelbach says. "This is general stuff that won’t have to come out of counties’ budgets. The federal government will be paying for the stuff that they should be paying for for these veterans."
Representative McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City who’s an Iraq War veteran, was involved in that issue as well as others. "There’s a political will and a real yearning amongst the people to address some of these veterans issues that really didn’t get the attention they deserved in sort of that, you know, interwar period," Bailey says. "People are seeing these sacrifices that soldiers are making more often and they’re starting to face the reality of what happens to soldiers when they come home."
Bailey says the number of legislators who are veterans is another reason bills benefiting veterans were so readily embraced. "It’s one thing to want to do something and it’s another thing to have people who understand the veterans system and know what actually needs to be done," Bailey says.
Senator Steve Warnstadt, a Democrat from Sioux City, is an intelligence officer in the Iowa National Guard who did a tour of duty in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Warnstadt says having veterans of Korea all the way through the current war made a huge difference. "Despite the age differences, we all share a common passion and we have a very, very receptive audience among legislators," Warnstadt says. "…It doesn’t matter where people are on the war or anything — legislators want to be able to do something, so show something tangible and not just talk about veteran’s issues."
Representative Jodi Tymeson, a Republican from Winterset, was the highest-ranking woman in the Iowa National Guard when she retired last fall. "There’s great support in the legislature for veterans and veterans issues and I think that’s because there’s great support from Iowans for veterans," Tymeson says.
The legislature voted to forbid judges from modifying a soldier’s child custody while that soldier’s away on active duty. In addition, lawmakers are setting aside $20 million for a new Veterans Home in Marshalltown. Lawmakers also voted to dedicate revenue from a lottery game to the state’s Veterans Trust Fund.
All but one of the veterans-related bills passed the legislature by a unanimous vote. Warnstadt, the Iowa National Guardsman, says that’s somewhat unique at the statehouse. "It wasn’t a partisan focus on it. It wasn’t, you know, ‘Hey, this is so-and-so’s bill,’" Warnstadt says. "It was, ‘We really want to get something done for veterans.’"
Zirkelbach, the Iraq War vet, says veterans issues will be paramount in the future, too. "We have 250,000 veterans identified right now in the state of Iowa…about one-twelfth of our population," Zirkelbach says.