House supports bill to require towns to provide liaison for veterans' services

Hartford - A bill requiring cities and towns to designate a veterans' services contact person was passed by a 144-1 vote, with five members absent Wednesday in the state House of Representatives.

"I would like to speak very strongly in support of this particular legislation," state Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, said. "I have received a number of inquiries from returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, and I have some difficulty answering their questions to the full degree I would be satisfied with."

Municipalities that do not already have a veterans' advisory committee or a veterans' services officer would have to appoint an employee to act as a contact person. The bill initially required this person to attend an annual training by the state Department of Veterans Affairs, but the bill was amended to read that this person "may" attend a training in order to prevent the creation of an unfunded mandate.

"I rise in support of the amendment because it relieves the mandate on towns and leaves it up to the town," state Rep. David Yaccarino, R-North Haven, said.

Some lawmakers questioned whether the bill was simply redundant.

"I, like many of us, support the need to help the individuals who are returning home and will support this," state Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, said. "I just sometimes wonder, you know, if there are already people out there that are doing this good work that they be included in the coordination of efforts."

The contact person would not be an expert in veterans' affairs but would be able to point out access to benefits and resources are for veterans, said state Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"A lot of municipalities are already doing this," Hennessy said. "This just affirms that every town, city hall will have someone who can speak knowledgeably about what is available to veterans."

State Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, said that as someone who recently served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the bill was essential.

About 5,000 to 6,000 veterans will be coming home to Connecticut with the drawdown of military troops abroad.

"We need to prepare for that, and this is a proper step in the right direction." Alexander said.

The bill next goes to the Senate for a vote.

j.somers@theday.com

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