Dear friends and neighbors,
Next week our nation observes Veterans Day, a federal and state holiday. With many veterans and their families calling Tacoma and greater Pierce County home, this holiday holds a lot of meaning for many in our community.
Veterans Day recognizes the service and sacrifices of those who are serving or have served our country. But supporting our veterans and their families is a year-round effort.
One of the many ways we can support veterans at the state level is to provide outreach and services to help prevent suicide among veterans and military members. Veteran suicide rates have been increasing and in Washington state, we average more than 200 veteran suicides each year. We need to do more to help protect those who have taken up the call to protect us.
In the 2021 legislative session, a bill advanced out of the House Committee on Housing, Human Services & Veterans. It would extend and modify the Suicide-Safer Homes Task Force, and establish a suicide prevention community-based services grant program to provide peer support and other assistance to at-risk and transitioning military members and their families.
While the bill didn’t make it all the way through the Legislature, I expect to see it taken up again in the 2022 session, and my hope is it will cross the finish line this time. You can follow the bill’s progress here.
Preventing suicide and supporting those experiencing a behavioral health crisis requires a robust infrastructure of trained providers in our state’s communities. That’s why I was so excited about the recent groundbreaking of the new UW Medicine Behavioral Health Teaching Facility on October 15.
Thanks to legislation passed in 2019, a Behavioral Health Innovation and Integration Campus is coming to the University of Washington School of Medicine, increasing access to behavioral health services in our state. Not only will this campus have 150 new behavioral health treatment beds focusing on inpatient and outpatient care, it will also train the behavioral health workforce to meet our state’s growing needs. I was proud to co-sponsor and vote for this bill.
What else has the Legislature done in recent years for veterans and their families?
- Created the position of Military Spouse Liaison within the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides assistance and information to military spouses seeking professional licenses, credentials or other employment, and helps military spouses access high-quality child care, among other services. Federal and state governments often overlook military spouses when supporting active duty or retired service members. We owe it to military spouses to provide these supports in recognition of the great sacrifices they make, including the loss of opportunities due to frequent relocations and deployments.
- Established an LGBTQ Coordinator within the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs. Our LGBTQ veterans face isolation, stigma, and disproportionate suicide rates. By helping connect these veterans with the services they need, our state makes sure all veterans feel welcome and supported.
- Ensured access to in-state tuition for disabled veterans. By passing this measure, our state was able to continue participation in the federal Choice Act, which enables public institutions of higher education to receive payments under the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, and other veteran education benefits.
- Expanded access to in-state tuition for veterans and their families. Prior to this legislation, veterans and their families did not qualify for in-state tuition until all discharge paperwork was completed, a process that could take significant time. Now, even if the technical transition from military to civilian life hasn’t been officially completed, veterans and their children can access in-state tuition, making college and postsecondary training more affordable.
- Provided better consumer protections for military service members. When a service member has to relocate to report to a new duty station, this can mean severing contractual ties with memberships and service providers, such as cable, phone and internet providers. Our state’s law now allows members of the military and their families to get out of these contracts without penalty or financial loss.
- Created an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance within the state Attorney General’s Office to promote and facilitate civil legal assistance and pro bono programs. Our military service members, veterans, and their families shouldn’t have to go it alone when it comes to legal issues surrounding things like housing or VA benefits.
- Granted veterans and their spouses who are state employees immediate access to paid leave through the “uniformed service shared leave pool” – without the usual six-month probationary employment period. The six-month limitation meant those service members returning from deployments with injuries or other conditions often had to take unpaid leave for necessary VA medical appointments (if they didn’t have sufficient paid leave banked). Spouses often assist in providing transportation to these appointments. Now both can qualify for shared leave.
To all veterans in the 27th Legislative District: Thank you for your service. We will continue to look at what actions the Legislature can take to provide more support and better opportunities for you and your families.
Welcome, Sen. Trudeau!
On Tuesday, the Pierce County Council voted to unanimously appoint Yasmin Trudeau to the state Senate seat for the 27th Legislative District. She was immediately sworn into office by Washington Chief Justice Steven González.
Sen. Trudeau replaces former Sen. Jeannie Darneille, who recently retired from the Legislature in order to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Women’s Prisons for the state Department of Corrections. She is the first woman of color to serve as senator for the 27th District.
I released this statement on Sen. Trudeau’s appointment, which I hope conveys how very excited I am to work with her on behalf of the people of our district:
“Sen. Trudeau’s appointment is wonderful news for our district, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to the 27th LD delegation. With deep connections to our community through her lived history here, she is immediately ready to take on the work to address the needs of the people and communities we represent. I know she will be a hard-working and effective senator, because she already has a strong track record of involvement in issues like addressing gun violence, making health care accessible and affordable to all, and protecting consumers.
“I was fortunate to serve alongside former Sen. Jeannie Darneille for many years, and she left shoes that no one can possibly fill. But Sen. Trudeau will walk in her own shoes, building her own legacy championing policies that lift all people. I’m excited to be both her seatmate and her constituent.”
Committee Assembly Days are almost here
On November 18-19, House lawmakers will convene virtually for “Committee Assembly Days.” This is when House committees hold public meetings and work sessions to discuss policies and issues likely to come before the Legislature in the coming session (the Senate has their Committee Days on November 15-16).
It’s an honor to serve as your state representative. If you have any comments, questions, or feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me.