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Veterans issues addressed in sessions

This session has so far been incredibly successful for advancing veterans' issues in the state of Oregon. As a military veteran, one of my top priorities as a legislator has been to help our returning veterans reintegrate themselves into civilian life after honorably serving our country.

We had already made a lot of progress on veterans' issues in the previous (2009) session; among the many veterans' bills I worked on at that time were bills that helped veterans pay reduced college tuition, protected disabled veterans from discrimination and helped pay the costs of cancer treatment for veterans who had been exposed to hexavalent chromium in Iraq. Additionally, we recognized that being a veteran is a lifelong commitment deserving of a lifelong benefit of preference in employment, not the 15-year limitation as set previously.

During the past interim, I served on the Veterans Reintegration Task Force and returned to session this year with a number of strong recommendations to improve the lives of our returning soldiers.

There have been some significant bills this session that have already been signed into law. These include a bill that helps various state agencies create more reintegration services for veterans and another that expands the definition of uniformed service members to match the federal definition.

We also have a number of bills that have moved out of the House Veterans Committee that I am still working on, and I am determined to get those signed into law as well. Among these concepts is a draft law to encourage health care providers to offer reduced-cost mental health services to veterans, and a number of bills to help address the specific mental and physical health issues that are faced by female veterans.

Notwithstanding these victories, I am still working to accomplish more for our veterans this session. I am seeking to limit the deployment of soldiers who have recently lost siblings to death in combat. In addition, I am working with the Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Department of Veterans' Affairs to increase communication between the two agencies when they are dealing with veterans' issues.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee has been a model of how well the co-chair governance model can work. Though we are evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, we have been able to address a lot of serious issues facing our state's veterans. I would like to particularly thank the House co-chairs Rep. Sal Esquivel (Medford) and Rep. Brad Witt (Clatskanie), as well as the chair of the Senate Veterans' and Military Affairs Committee Senator Brian Boquist (Dallas). I continue to be honored to serve as Gresham's state representative, and I am also honored to be able to go on championing legislation that is so important for our veterans.

Greg Matthews, a democrat, represents District 50 in Gresham.