Opinion

Honor the fallen by taking care of our vets

Last week, Mainers all across the state celebrated Memorial Day by recognizing the profound sacrifice of our fallen veterans. In Aroostook County, there were moving services and parades from Fort Kent to Caribou and many communities in between. All of these tributes signify our gratitude to the servicemen and women who are gone but certainly not forgotten.

For me, Memorial Day serves as an important reminder that the best way we can honor and remember those who have sacrificed their lives for all of us is by taking care of our Gold Star Families and the veterans who do return home.

In Maine, we have a high percentage of veterans compared to the rest of our population. According to a recent report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Maine is one of six states where veterans account for at least 10 percent of the population. Maine must prioritize efforts to reduce the rate of homelessness among our veterans, provide resources for post-traumatic stress disorder and work to make the transition back into civilian life as smooth as possible.

While the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, the American Legion and other veteran advocacy and nonprofit groups do a lot of good work, the Maine Legislature also has a role to play.

Too often, our servicemen and women struggle to return to civilian life. Providing property tax relief is one critical way to both alleviate financial stress and thank our veterans for their sacrifice. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation that would expand the veteran property tax exemption program. This bill increases the exemption amount from $6,000 to $10,000 and includes more veterans in the program. If this bill is passed into law, eligible applicants would include World War I widows, D-1 paraplegic veterans and veterans who served during the Korean War.

The Legislature has already passed this bill. It now awaits funding before becoming law. I’m hopeful that my colleagues will join me in putting our money where our mouth is by funding this proposal. The bill would also reimburse municipalities at 100 percent, as to not shift the property tax burden onto Maine towns and cities. For more information on how to file for this benefit, go to www.maine.gov/revenue/forms/property/apps/veteranapp.pdf.

I’ve also sponsored legislation to increase veteran participation in moose hunting after hearing from a constituent. My bill would give Mainers participating in the moose permit lottery the opportunity to donate their permit to a wounded service member or a veteran, should they be selected for a permit.

Moose hunting is a beloved pastime in this state. It provides an opportunity for families and friends to get together and enjoy Maine’s great outdoors. This bill would allow Mainers to share this experience with a veteran. Under this new program, individuals applying for the moose permit lottery would indicate on their application whether they intend to donate their permit to a veteran, should they be selected. Applicants can either identify a specific veteran for the moose hunting permit or allow the Commissioner of the Department of Inland, Fisheries and Wildlife to randomly draw the name of a wounded service member or veteran from the list maintained by the Department.

At the end of the day, it’s a simple bill with the goal of saying thanks to our veterans and promoting opportunities for our vets to reconnect with friends and loved ones by experiencing the best that Maine has to offer.

The Legislature is also considering bills to fund programs that would reduce veteran homelessness, including the Maine Veterans Home in Caribou. I look forward to voting for these critical measures in the Senate and making sure they end up on the governor’s desk.

Maine veterans have served our country and state with integrity and honor. All we want to do is ease their transition back home, into the workforce and into Maine life.While we cannot bring our fallen heroes back, we can all vow to do better by the men and women who do come home. I’m hopeful the Legislature will continue to pass laws that support our veterans in this critical transition period.

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