SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Military veterans and their families will get education benefits, emergency financial assistance and job and skills training under a package of bills signed into law Monday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
The bills were part of a $5.4 million package approved by the 2005 Legislature as a way to show the state’s appreciation for Oregon soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Too often, our soldiers are paid only in lip service, but with this package of legislation, we are making a commitment as a state to support those who risked their lives and their futures to defend us, our freedoms, and the principles that serve as the foundation of this great nation,” Kulongoski said.
According to military officials, 47 soldiers from Oregon or with strong ties to the state have died in the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The benefits in the Legislature’s package are aimed at those in the regular armed forces, reserves and Oregon National Guard and their families.
Under the bills, the education benefit available through the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs will go from $50 to $150 per month for up to 36 months.
National Guard members will get money for tuition waivers; returning veterans who want to teach can obtain grants through a new Troops to Teachers program; and job seekers can get bus passes and vanpool service through the Employment Department.
Emergency assistance funds will be run by the Oregon National Guard for military families and by the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs for returning veterans, to help them make the transition from active duty to education or employment.
The package expands a home loan and assistance program within the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs that helps connect below-market interest rate loans to qualified, eligible veterans for home acquisition and home improvement loans.
Also, the Oregon Military Department will reimburse active members of the armed forces for the cost of hunting and fishing licenses.
Kulongoski signed the bills during a ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial at Portland’s Washington Park Zoo.
Among those attending was Jim Willis, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, who said the measures will target much-needed assistance to veterans, soldiers on active deployment overseas, and their families.
“This addresses some real world needs for things that are occurring right now for returning troops and for things we anticipate in the near future,” Willis said. “It’s a pretty good package.”