Opinion Columns & Blogs

Those helping veterans are getting their acts together, sort of

An American flag sticks out of a man’s hat as classic cars pass Bob Hart Square during the annual Veterans Day parade in Merced.
An American flag sticks out of a man’s hat as classic cars pass Bob Hart Square during the annual Veterans Day parade in Merced. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, brings a bit of hope this year that vets will finally receive some formal recognition and proof of military service to our country.

This glimmer of formally recognizing service time comes in the form of a long-awaited and much requested Veterans Identification Card, which will be issued (eventually) by Veterans Affairs.

Already available, though not well-publicized, is the ability to have the designation “VETERAN” clearly affixed to your California driver’s license.

Other than to simply prove that we were indeed veterans, the ID cards will enable vets to obtain discounts from vendors and merchants who offer such benefits to those who served.

The federal ID card was approved almost 18 months ago, when Congress unanimously passed the Veterans Identification Card Act. While Congress directed the VA to begin issuing the cards to eligible veterans, it put no time frame on the order. Thus, in true bureaucratic form, the VA website says simply these cards “may be available sometime in 2017.”

Are they hoping many of us who might be eligible will die off before then so they won’t have so many cards to issue? One can only wonder at this unacceptable delay.

California has been much more efficient in enacting its own method of recognizing and honoring veterans. Exactly one year ago, the state enacted a law that entitles eligible veterans to have the word “VETERAN” printed on the face of a driver’s license.

You can get this enhanced license by taking your DD-214 (the official record of military service and discharge) to the Stanislaus County veterans office at 121 Downey St. in Modesto. Staff there will issue an official form that you can then take to any DMV office, along with a $5 fee, and your new officially designated license will be issued.

This affords me the perfect excuse to swap out my current license, which some months back was chewed up by my 130-pound American bulldog. Last time I went through airport security, the TSA agent remarked that a replacement was overdue.

One can only wonder how the federal Veterans Affairs can be so slow in implementing a similar benefit. Surely two years is sufficient time, even for the most rigid of bureaucracies, to put together a seemingly simple program. But then this is the same VA that has put countless vets at risk with its hospital system that is too often so poorly administered.

And California, while acting much more promptly to create the new driver’s license, has been, in my opinion, seriously remiss in putting out this information. In fact, I stumbled across this benefit while researching the status of the federal card.

Giving credit where credit is due, my experience in working with the county veterans office on Downey has been excellent. They are quick to respond to questions, to help assess your status and eligibility for various benefits and staff is a pleasure to work with. Even better news, a new and much improved Stanislaus Veterans Center is being built at Sylvan and Coffee roads. It’s supposed to open in early 2017. (Perhaps they might even have a new ID card available by then.)

If you need only basic information without an interview, the downtown Modesto branch of Stanislaus County Library has a small section near the reference desk loaded with booklets and helpful pamphlets to assist veterans.

The Salvation Army Berberian Shelter in downtown Modesto has 16 beds set aside exclusively for veterans. Full meals and a safe place to sleep are available for up to 24 months. However, most vets don’t stay the full time as the VA and Salvation Army actively seek jobs and permanent housing for those in the program. Just last week, five of the residents found jobs and were able to leave the facility for their own housing.

Gradually, even with the frustrations of government glacial progress, we veterans are being recognized and assisted in receiving benefits we richly deserve for our service to this country.

Dick Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in nonprofits. Send comments or questions to columns@modbee.com.