Veterans Day & working together for Idaho veterans

by SEN. MIKE CRAPO Contributing Writer
| November 12, 2020 1:00 AM

It is a great benefit to our state that more than 115,000 veterans choose to make Idaho their home. Idaho veterans offer a helping hand to their fellow veterans, military families and broader communities time after time. I look to Idaho veterans, the veterans organizations they lead and the veterans program staff they work with for their helpful insight in ensuring federal programs truly support their service while deployed and when they return home.

I am proud to lead a collaborative effort, called the Veterans Education Workforce Development Coalition, focused on implementing improvements to support veterans’ return to civilian life. We are working to build on the progress we are making to ensure veterans services reflect gratitude for veterans’ extraordinary service. This progress includes:

Connecting Veterans to Needed Services: In addition to the 3.1 percent troop pay raise, military housing reforms and a phase-out of the Military Widows Tax, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, signed into law in December, included modifications I advocated for based on the work of the Veterans Education Workforce Development Coalition. Before becoming law, these provisions were also included in the bipartisan S. 1555, the IMPROVE Transition for Servicemembers Act, I led with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and also co-sponsored by Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho). One of the provisions enacted into law would better connect servicemembers leaving the armed forces with community-based organizations to help ensure they can easily access needed services and programs. We are now working with federal agencies, the State and other stakeholders to implement this law.

Connecting Servicemembers with Industry Partners: The NDAA for FY 2020 also contained a provision I advocated for to expand the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides assistance to servicemembers returning to civilian life, to include servicemembers participating in the SkillBridge program. SkillBridge connects servicemembers with industry partners in real-world job experience during their last 180 days of service. I commend Mountain Home Air Force Base for its accelerated use of the SkillBridge program over the past few years. We are now working to expand opportunities for local use of SkillBridge.

Translating Military Certifications into Educational Milestones: Another effort being led by the Idaho State Board of Education and Idaho’s colleges and universities is what is known as the Military Crosswalk, which would translate some of the classes and skills from a servicemember’s Joint Services Transcripts into general education college credits. Typically, military certifications and courses have been converted into more specific, skilled courses, so the more broad interpretation would be the first of its kind in the country and improve the way in which servicemembers can benefit from their military experience.

These are just some of the many efforts underway to make certain the veterans who choose to make Idaho home can more easily access the jobs, programs and services they need and their talents are effectively applied. While we are making progress, we have more work ahead. We must build on continued attention by Congress and other federal actions to combat veteran suicide. I co-led the introduction of legislation to enable veterans open access to mental health care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), regardless of how long following service they seek treatment.

Thank you to the Idaho veterans community for helping identify and enact needed changes. Thank you for taking opportunities this Veterans Day and every day to honor veterans. Thank you to the military families who support the service of their loved ones in uniform. And, thank you, above all, to our nation’s veterans. You are the heart of our great country.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, represents Idaho in the U.S. Senate. He can be reached online at crapo.senate.gov, via his Coeur d'Alene office at 208-664-5490, or via his Washington, D.C., office at 202-224-6142.