Veterans' bills to be considered by General Assembly committee

Proposals ranging from expanding who qualifies as a veteran to discounting hunting, trapping and fishing licenses for disabled veterans will come before the General Assembly's Veterans Affairs Committee early next week.

The committee will meet Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Many of the proposed bills are still in the preliminary stages and final language still needs to be worked out. Some of the proposals are very similar and could be combined into one larger bill.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a member of the veterans committee, has introduced a bill that would allow armed forces reservists and members of the National Guard to receive state veterans' benefits.

"We're looking to iron out the definition of a veteran," said Osten, who served in the Army for four years.

The frequent rate at which guardsmen and reservists in the state are activated should entitle them to state veterans' benefits such as being buried in a veterans' cemetery, she said.

Osten is again pushing for a resolution that would recommend to the federal government that World War II-era civilian cadet nurses be recognized as veterans. The resolution has failed to pass several times.

"At this rate, they'll all pass away before we can get anything done," Osten said.

Cadet nurses who are still alive are in their late 80s or older.

Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, is proposing to provide hunting, trapping and fishing licenses at a discounted rate for veterans with service-connected disabilities. The bill is intended to promote activities that could help rehabilitate disabled veterans.

Two similar, marijuana-related proposals will be taken up at the hearing. They would waive certain fees for medical marijuana cards for qualifying veterans.

A proposal by Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, that would allow veterans, who received a discharge other than dishonorable as a result of being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury, to qualify for state veterans' benefits is already receiving support from some veterans group with more expected to follow.

Already the Connecticut chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, High Ground Veterans, and Yale University's Veterans Legal Services Clinic are planning a press conference for later this month in support of the projects. Other veterans groups are likely to join as well.

Late last year, Connecticut became the first state in the U.S. to put in place a program to help veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder appeal their "bad paper" discharges.

Sign-up for the hearing will start at noon on Feb. 14 in the first floor atrium of the Legislative Office Building. Those wishing to speak are asked to submit 25 copies of written testimony to the committee.

j.bergman@theday.com

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