Lottery Bill to Benefit Veterans

Paul Evans

Oregonians serving with the 116th Air Control Squadron recently received a warm, well-deserved welcome from family, friends, and neighbors this week at a demobilization ceremony at Camp Withycombe (Clackamas). Even as we celebrate their homecoming, we should take a moment to reflect upon the ongoing challenges our veterans face upon return. These men and women deserve a soft-landing – a thoughtful reintegration into our communities. Some of our returning hometown heroes are coming back to a supportive environment; some are not. And thousands of veterans from previous eras struggle to survive.

Our veterans deserve access to education and employment assistance, mental health care services, affordable housing and transportation. Too often our veterans are forgotten despite the impacts of service upon their lives. During 2015, the Oregon's Legislature made a significant investment in outreach adding close to $1,000,000 more for County Veterans' Service Officers and established a dedicated position for women veterans' coordination. We also established a taskforce for identifying ways to help the growing number of incarcerated veterans.

This year I am sponsoring legislation supporting a 3% set-aside of Oregon Lottery profits for unlocking opportunities throughout Oregon to capture federal funds so many of our veterans have earned but are not yet receiving. The goal is to develop a fund for leveraging potential partnerships that could help us secure as much as $4 billion in dedicated veterans' assistance that many veterans and military families should have access to but don't.

Current data suggests that more than 250,000 Oregon veterans are not recognized within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs structures and systems. This means that existing healthcare and transportation activities, among others, are funded only at the level of the number of veterans recognized: approximately 100,000 of 350,000. The 3% of lottery funds dedicated to veterans' services will support targeted outreach and provide seed money for leveraging available programming. Clearly, the State of Oregon can, and should, make an historic investment in veterans' care. To be clear, this proposal expressly forbids any impact upon education and/or parks funding. The Constitutionally mandated 18% and 15% set-asides remain unchanged. At present the federal government returns at least $77 dollars for every $1 dollar of state investment. This approach has support from many legislators from both political parties as a smart investment of scarce resources.

Numbers tell only part of the story. As a veteran, and as a member of Oregon's Legislature, I know firsthand of the opportunities and challenges awaiting our service men and women. We are engaged in three overseas conflicts. Our military members are facing multiple deployments and significant long-term stresses resulting from their time in uniform. Oregon can better extend the safety net of services to our military personnel and their families. We live in a world of complex challenges five generations of veterans are now facing. It is time we keep faith with the men and women we send into Harm's Way. The lottery set-aside is a way to start.

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