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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Summit helps sets veterans’ priorities for Legislature

Priorities for veterans’ issues have been established for this year’s 82nd Legislature, which began Feb. 6.

Every year the Nevada Veterans Legislative Summit is conducted in late January in Las Vegas and Reno by the Nevada Department of Veterans Services. The NDVS, in partnership with the United Veterans Legislative Council, outlines its top priorities for the state Legislature with topics ranging from the Adopt-A-Vet Dental program to pay and benefit issues.

The NDVS said the summit presents information to its members and other interested military groups, and during the Legislature’s off years, a Veterans Legislative Symposia allows veterans, service members and other advocates to identity and then prioritize a list for the state’s lawmakers. NDVS Director Fred Wagar said the veterans who participate in the yearly meetings do so for the benefit of the state’s military community.

“This is definitely a bipartisan group,” Wagar said.

Wagar, who was reappointed in January by newly elected Gov. Joe Lombardo, said Nevada is such a small state that veterans can approach their legislators to express their concerns or support.

Chase McNamara of the governor’s Constituent Services team said it’s gratifying to see so many veterans come together to help each other.

State Sen. Lisa Krasner, R-Carson City, said she worked with the veterans legislative council Chairman Andy LePeilbet prior to the summit. The council acts as a unified voice for the veterans.

“Andy and I went through topic by topic,” she told the veterans. “What needs to be done, what is the one thing we don’t want to bring up in a legislative session.”

Krasner also cited a need for additional nursing homes for Nevada’s aging veterans. She said more homes are needed in the two populations centers of Reno and Las Vegas and another in rural Nevada. Currently, the two state veterans’ homes are in Boulder City and Sparks.

The 2023 list is just as aggressive and important as it was two years ago with the Jan. 14 symposium identifying 47 issues.

“We have 13 BDRs (bill draft requests) being proposed,” said Rep. P.K. O’Neill, R-Carson City, minority floor leader. “We will work together to get your bills done.”

The top five issues for this session include the continued funding for the Adopt-A-Vet Dental Program; employing a state veterans’ suicide prevention manager; adopting the “Ask the Question” program requiring service providers to ask patients if they served in the military; studying the effectiveness and potential licensing of hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment; and offering competitive wages to employees at the state’s veterans memorial cemeteries.

Rounding out the top-tier requests are creating an additional sick leave category for veterans who are new state employees; asking the state to reduce or eliminate business license fees for veteran-owned businesses; removing state occupational licensing barriers for military, veterans and their spouses; continuing the Military Sexual Trauma training program; and requiring the state to create a hunting tag priority category for 50 percent or greater disabled veterans.

The 2021 Legislature considered 24 bills and passed 15. Among the legislation passed were the establishment of the Nevada Transition Assistance Program, added a veterans’ suicide prevention and homelessness program into the department’s umbrella, allowed Nevada National Guard members to transfer state university tuition waivers to dependents, established the offense of sexual harassment within the Nevada Code of Military Justice and created a sales tax holiday on Nevada Day for members of the state’s National Guard.

LePeilbet, the state’s most decorated Vietnam War veteran, said Nevada is home to almost a half-million veterans and their families, which represents about 16 percent of the state’s population, and the number continues to increase yearly.

He said the veterans’ council talks issues, not politics. Knowing the issues are important, and getting veterans involved is just as important. He encourages veterans and other interested individuals to sign up for updated emails and to track bills online through the Nevada Electronic Legislative Information System, a free public tool that includes bills and their content and committee meeting information. Individuals may also subscribe to bills and budgets that are important or specific to a person’s interest.

LePeilbet said veterans may want to become a lobbyist for a bill or issue.

“Sometimes, we testify against bills but that doesn’t happen too often,” he said.

Steve Ranson is a longtime, award-winning Nevada journalist and writes for the Nevada News Group.

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