Under current Oklahoma law in order for a veteran to be eligible for state veterans’ benefits, including admission to an Oklahoma Veterans Center, they must meet the definition of a war veteran. Oklahoma statutes define these as veterans who served in a branch of the U.S. military during a period of war including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars.
Currently, there are approximately 380,000 veterans in Oklahoma and around 80,000 of those, by statute, are considered peacetime veterans rather than war veterans and, therefore, are not eligible for state veterans’ benefits. To address this discrepancy and work to get all Oklahoma veterans the state benefits they deserve, Sen. Frank Simpson has filed Senate Bill 1610.
“Although these veterans answered the call, deployed overseas, were separated from family, and served our nation honorably they are not eligible for state veterans’ benefits,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “The difference between a war veteran and a peacetime veteran could be as little as one day of active service. It’s an insult to these brave individuals who fought for their country, and we need to do all we can to take care of them.”
U. S. military expeditions are characterized by operations in which U.S. Armed Forces have actually landed or are present and specifically deployed in a foreign territory for the direct support of a designated military operation. Some examples are those operations that took place in the Indian Ocean/Yemen, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, and Panama. In each of these periods, the service members who participated in the operations received military awards, including the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal or the Navy Expeditionary Medal but many of these veterans may not be eligible for state veterans’ benefits.
Simpson noted that over the next twenty years the Oklahoma veteran population will decrease dramatically with the loss of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam veterans. The state’s current war veteran population is expected to decline from 300,000 to 125,000 by the year 2035.
“I’m offering Senate Bill 1610 to ensure all our veterans are honored for their service to our country,” said Simpson, chair of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. “This bill will extend eligibility for state veterans’ benefits to all Oklahoma veterans who served honorably. The decline in veteran population over the coming years will give us the opportunity to expand eligibility to all veterans without increased costs to the taxpayers.”
Simpson pointed out that there are other benefits as well that Oklahoma peacetime veterans have not received. One example is the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) offers a $1,000 emergency stipend to assist veterans with expenses during a time of crisis. During the aftermath of the May 2013 tornadoes in Moore and other communities, many veterans were turned away because they did not meet the definition of a war veteran.
“As a state, we must be there for all our veterans, not just a select group, during their time of need,” said Simpson. “In my mind, it’s just the right thing to do.”