This Independence Day, let’s take time to remember the men and women who have fought to protect the freedoms we celebrate.
Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of working in the Legislature on measures to honor Maine veterans and servicemembers. As a lawmaker, ensuring that our veterans are taken care of is of the utmost importance. As a country and as a state, we must make good on our promises to the brave men and women who have served.
This past session, the 126th Maine Legislature took important steps to help veterans live safe, healthy and happy lives here at home.
We funded the successful Veterans Treatment Court in the Kennebec Valley, laying the groundwork for the program’s expansion to other parts of the state. The Veterans Treatment Court has proved an effective tool to help service members who struggle with substance abuse and addiction-related issues after they return home. The program has won the support of veterans and law enforcement officials alike.
To successfully transition to civilian life, veterans should have access to the educational and workforce training opportunities they need. This session, lawmakers took action to allow all veterans access to Maine’s public higher education institutions at in-state tuition rates. We also passed legislation to encourage private employers to hire more veterans.
Legislators also worked to keep veterans in their homes. I co-sponsored a bill to ensure that those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan receive a property tax exemption already available to other veterans. The measure was unanimously approved. We also worked to combat homelessness among our veterans, a problem that must be addressed.
The next Legislature should build on these measures. Our veterans should never worry about having a place to live.
Another important measure passed by the Legislature formally recognized and urged federal compensation for the serious harm that many Maine National Guard veterans have faced as the result of Agent Orange exposure during training at the Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown, New Brunswick. The federal government should recognize the serious consequences of this exposure and see to the needs of these veterans.
During my time in the Legislature, I have worked with constituents who have served or are currently serving, as well as Maine military families. Their stories remind me of how great the sacrifices of service members and their families are. I am humbled to serve them now in whatever ways I can.
There is more work to be done on behalf of Maine’s veterans. Unfortunately, we were not able to override the governor’s veto of legislation that would have benefited 3,000 Maine veterans by expanding health care access, not to mention the many others who qualify for care through the Department of Veterans Affairs but live too far away from VA centers to access necessary health care.
We must continue to work on behalf of veterans until all who have served have access to the care they need, safe places to call home and jobs to support them and their families.
I am committed to standing up for men and women who have served. Our veterans have earned our unwavering support with their service, and it is thanks to their sacrifices that we have the opportunity to celebrate our freedom this July 4th.
Have a safe and happy Independence Day.
Rep. Stanley Short Jr., a Democrat, is serving his first term in the Maine Legislature and represents Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield.