Veterans can get some needed help from four bills that Gov. Jared Polis signed Wednesday that are directed squarely at them.
The measures, some of which were introduced by local lawmakers, are designed to help them get jobs, provide assistance to deal with any mental health issues as a result of their military duty, and offer homeless veterans food, clothing or other aid when they need it.
That last measure, Senate Bill 32, creates a pilot grant program — the Mobile Veterans Support Unit Grant Program — that is specifically aimed at helping veterans who live in rural areas of the state.
Under it, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs would create a limited program, for now, to provide two-year grants to veteran-owned organizations that work to distribute supplies to homeless veterans, or help provide transportation for whatever they need, from getting to medical care to homeless shelters.
Introduced by Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, the grant fund is seeded with about $239,000 in state money, but also could accept gifts, grants or donations from private sources.
“(The) bill signings demonstrate the incredible progress we made this year helping veterans find good jobs, preventing veteran suicides and providing a lifeline for rural and homeless vets going through tough times,” said Rep. David Ortiz, D-Littleton, who was the House sponsor of three of the bills. “We have a world-premier, all-volunteer fighting force, and to keep it that way we need to be proactive about ensuring veterans can go on to thrive after their service.”
Ortiz is the first known wheelchair-bound member of the Colorado Legislature. The U.S. Army veteran lost his ability to walk after a helicopter he was in while serving in Afghanistan crashed in 2012.
House Bill 1065, introduced by Ortiz and Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat and Marine veteran, allows private employers to adopt veterans-preference hiring policies similar to those already in place for government jobs.
Under it, employers could elevate veterans, or the spouse of a disabled veteran or service member killed in the line of duty over other job applicants so long as they are equally qualified for the available position.
The measure offers legal protections against discrimination to employers who adopt such policies, but it also ensures that the new law does not have the impact of discriminating against other protected classes based on race, sexual orientation, ethnic background or religious beliefs, among others.
Another measure, SB129, creates another pilot program aimed at veterans.
Also introduced by Ortiz and Garcia, the measure calls on the Colorado Department of Human Services to establish a special veterans suicide prevention hotline.
That hotline would serve as a central point for veterans to call in to get whatever behavioral health care treatment they need.
The fourth measure, partly introduced by Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, changes the name of Lincoln Park and Liberty Park located on the Capitol grounds in Denver to Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park.