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Our Voice: While imperfect, expanded definition of veteran has merit

American News Editorial Board | Aberdeen News

A proposal that would broaden how South Dakota defines a veteran has been met with vitriol by some with military experience, yet received resounding support in the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 1179 was approved 63-4 last week, a tally so shocking that gasps could be heard in the Capitol chamber after the vote, according to American News correspondent Bob Mercer.


Current state law defines a veteran as someone who has served “continuous federalized active military duty for a period of at least 90 days for reasons other than training.”

In other words, someone who’s been deployed in a war zone for at least that long.

The change in definition would remove that requirement, which would lead to extra benefits for 20,000 to 25,000 people — Reserves and National Guard — who have served in the armed forces reserves or National Guard.

The extra perks would include:

• The ability to purchase special veteran license plates.

• That their survivors could apply for $100 burial assistance available to low-income veterans.

• Access to the State Veterans Home in Hot Springs.

• Qualification for the automatic interviews granted to veterans who apply and qualify for jobs in state government and in counties and cities that offer the preference.

Those seem like modest benefits for the men and women who are willing to defend our country, in addition to having non-military careers.

It’s true that the change could lead to an instance in which a veteran who has never been called into lengthy military duty procures a spot at the veterans home instead of one who has endured multiple, extended deployments. In this day and age, though, that seems unlikely. Those joining the Reserves or National Guard nowadays have to almost expect to be deployed. Our Aberdeen-area Guard and Reserve units have seen multiple deployments since 9/11.

And Guard and Reserve units are critical supplements to our country’s regular military forces.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the draft would ever be enacted again. The nature of war has changed and so has the public’s attitude toward involuntary military service. These people volunteered, and represent the numbers that might have been found using a draft in past years.

The Senate has yet to approve the veterans measure. It would also need backing from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has indicated he would sign the bill.

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, has been a vocal opponent of the proposal. An Aberdeen police officer and an Iraq War veteran, he feels the change would diminish the meaning of the word veteran. Kaiser is to be commended for his service and we understand his perspective, but we respectfully disagree.

While imperfect, we support the expanded definition of veteran. It seems like a small price to pay for those who are willing to defend and look out for the best interests of the nation.