Veterans, military family members and veterans’ services professionals testified before a legislative panel Friday in support of a measure that would bolster programs that support Maine veterans and their families.
“This bill will help existing programs better serve veterans’ immediate needs,” said Rep. Jim Davitt, sponsor of the bill and a Vietnam veteran. “Too many veterans, service members and their families are struggling. This is a step we can take to help military families in need.”
The bill would create a check-off box on the existing form Mainers use to apply for or renew a driver’s license. By checking the box, drivers could choose to donate $2 or another amount, which would be dedicated to funding nonprofit veterans’ services initiatives through grants to be administered by the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services.
“There is much we owe to those who served and suffered, and this legislation is an attempt to assuage the burdens they carry,” Davitt said in his remarks to the committee.
The measure has the support of the Bureau of Veterans’ Services. Peter Ogden, director of the bureau, spoke in support of the measure.
“As the director of Veterans’ Services, I can tell you there is a definite need to assist many veterans who are homeless, about to become homeless or suffering from a catastrophic illness,” said Ogden.
Easter Seals Maine Executive Director Gail Wilkerson, whose organization expects to serve at least 300 veterans, military personnel and their families this year through its Veterans Count program, also spoke in support.
“I want to thank Rep. Davitt for his military service and for sponsoring this bill,” said Wilkerson. “With his help, we can raise awareness and financial support to ensure veterans and their families can access services that ensure their dignity, health and overall well-being.”
According to the Department of the Secretary of State, a similar initiative passed into law in 2013 has raised more than $50,000 to raise awareness of organ donation. Davitt hopes his measure will be a similar boost for programs that help Maine veterans.
The Transportation Committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks before making a recommendation to the full Legislature.
Davitt, a veteran of the U.S. Army, earned the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. He is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents Hampden and Newburgh.