Darien’s Democratic state senators Bob Duff and Carlo Leone visited Norwalk’s American Legion Post 12 ahead of Independence Day on Tuesday to thank veterans for their service and to highlight new legislation that aims to benefit these servicemen.
This year, Duff and Leone spearheaded bills that seek to help improve the lives of veterans who live in Connecticut, by creating a jobs program that provides financial incentives for hiring returning combat veterans and also passing a law that makes it a crime to desecrate a memorial honoring veterans.
Joining Duff and Leone at the event were House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, a Republican who represents parts of Norwalk, and Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, as well as American Legion Post 12 Commander Buddy Scudder, Norwalk Veterans Memorial Committee Chairman Dan Caporale, and Darienite Phil Kraft, president of the National Veterans Service Fund.
“This Independence Day, as we reflect on our freedom, it is important to honor and thank those who put their lives on the line to serve their country,” Duff said. “I am particularly proud of this year’s achievement — a program to help returning combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan find jobs.”
Leone, who serves as Senate chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, echoed Duff.
“Just as our veterans did their duty to protect our country, it is now our responsibility to care for our veterans,” Leone said. “The STEP UP job training program will be a great help to the many soldiers now returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Lawmakers also passed a bill this year to grant non-violent veteran offenders a second chance in the judicial system. “As we celebrate our freedoms on the Fourth of July, we must remember and honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform,” Leone said.
Cafero praised the legislatures bipartisan approach to helping veterans. “When it comes to veterans issues, you won’t see any partisan politics come into play in Hartford,” Cafero said. “We worked together to pass legislation that will benefit the brave men and women who served their country.”
Moccia expressed his appreciation for their efforts. “Now from the city’s end, we must work to get the word out to residents about these veterans programs,” Moccia said. “We will make information about this legislation available on the city’s website.”
Scudder, a Vietnam era veteran, said he understands where many combat veterans are coming from and how they are treated upon return. “There was no job training program back then, but now there is, and it will be a great step for getting our new veterans acclimated to civilian life,” Scudder said. “Many veterans have an education, but there are still few jobs out there for them. New training will help. As a veteran, I am privileged to live in a state and a town that understands the value of supporting our troops, and honoring our veterans.”
What some of the new laws aim to do:
• A “STEP-UP for Veterans” program to help unemployed post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans, who suffer from an unemployment rate as high as 30%. This initiative subsidizes the cost of hiring and training a new veteran employee at a gradually declining rate over six months. Unlike the existing STEP UP program for non-veterans, only post Sept. 11 combat veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible for this new subsidy, and companies of any size may participate. The bill authorizes $10 million in bonds for the program over two years.
• A pretrial diversion program that will allow former members of the armed forces who have committed specific non-violent offenses an opportunity to participate in pretrial diversionary programs twice, rather than only once. The law broadens veterans’ eligibility for the state’s diversionary program for people with psychiatric disabilities and the pretrial drug education program. Veterans would also be afforded access to state and federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs services as an alternative to services from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
• A law that codifies two new crimes concerning desecration of war or veterans memorials: 1. Interference with a war or veterans’ memorial or monument, defined as intentionally defacing, mutilating, destroying, or removing a memorial, and 2. Unlawfully possessing, purchasing, or selling a war or memorial while knowing that it has been unlawfully removed from its official location. The bill imposes a $5,000 fine on anyone guilty of either crime. Both crimes are also designated a class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
• A law that went into effect late last summer allows permanently disabled military veterans to get a free lifetime pass to Connecticut state parks. This is a simple way to say “thank you” to the military men and women who sacrificed for their country. Click here to find locations to obtain a Disabled Veterans Pass (proof of residency and service connected disability status required).
• Fairer Taxes for Afghanistan Veterans — A law that now requires cities and towns to waive the interest on property taxes owed by soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Armed forces members serving in other parts of the Middle East are also eligible for this waiver on property tax interest.
• Helping Veterans Prove Their Service — A law allowing the state DMV to include a veteran’s status on his or her state driver’s license or identity card. Both of these IDs are routinely carried everywhere and widely recognized as official, thereby helping veterans secure cost-saving benefits.
• Overdue Diplomas for our Korean War Veterans — The legislature expanded a local school boards’ authority to award high school diplomas to veterans who did not receive them because they left high school for Korean War military service. There has been a long-standing state law that awards high school diplomas to World War II veterans who had to leave high school to fight for our country, but Korean War veterans were not allowed this privilege until 2011.