Passed in 2014, HB 4318 requires continuing education for a diverse group of health care providers on issues that are common to veterans, including depression, PTSD, suicide and grief. Delegate Fleischauer was the lead sponsor and developed the legislation as Co-Chair of the Interim Committee on Veterans. The listed professionals are now required to be trained to ask whether patients are veterans or related to veterans, and to receive training on how to screen all patients for depression, PTSD, suicide and grief.
Delegate Fleischauer was the lead sponsor of HB 4350 in 2014. This bill provided for the awarding of a West Virginia veterans service decoration, and a West Virginia Service Cross and ribbon for veterans service in armed conflict in the West Virginia National Guard or one of the five federally recognized military services. The program is to be administered by the National Guard, but unfortunately, funding for the medals was vetoed. Delegate Fleischauer has been speaking with the Governor’s office to get the program started at least.
HB 2534 in 2011, drafted by Delegate Fleischauer, sets up a statewide program to promote veteran friendly communities. Key provisions of HB 2534 were amended into a bill proposed by the Governor, SB 238, which created a cabinet-level position for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
HB 2694, passed in 2009, provides uniform procedures to ensure that service member’s parental or marital rights are not negatively affected when he or she is assigned to an area away from home. Topics covered in the bill, which Delegate Fleischauer sponsored, include rules for making sure that members of the military have proper notice of the filing of various custody or divorce documents during military service or deployments, and that they can participate or have a delay in hearings involving modifications of custodial rights, child support, and parenting plans while they are on active duty.
In 2011, Delegate Fleischauer sponsored HB 2550, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children Act. This bill is intended to promote smoother transitions for children in schools when military families move from state to state or out of the country. Passage of this bill is intended to ease the transfer of children’s credits and school records. Students and parents of military families should not be penalized by having to jump through inordinate hoops because they are serving our country.
Passed in 2012, HB 4007 protects spouses of active military who accompany their spouse when he or she has been assigned to duty out of state. Normally, when a person quits a job for any reason, they are disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation. Under this new law, if a spouse has to quit a job when the family moves because of a military assignment, the spouse now becomes eligible to receive unemployment compensation from West Virginia.
HB 4037, passed in 2012, directs state licensing boards to consider how they can harmonize statutory requirements with the skills and experience service members receive in the military. With the high unemployment rates for veterans and their spouses, it is important that licensing boards were given the authority to allow extensions or waivers of requirements to remove artificial barriers and minimize burdensome rules.
HB 4145, passed in 2010, includes extensive requirements for all state colleges and universities to become more "veteran friendly." Included among the mandatory assignments were the following: coordinating college disability services with those provided by the federal veterans administration, establishing a system to award of academic credit for military training and experience, providing counselors trained to respond to the unique needs of veterans, and appointing and training faculty members in each program or major so serve as liaisons to veteran students, etc. When passed, this legislation was the most progressive in the entire country.
In 2013, Delegate Fleischauer worked with WVU’s student veterans to achieve passage of HB 2490 and HB 2491. Because of 2491, our Code now requires the appointment of Veterans Advocates at all state institutions of higher education. This bill also sets out requirements for schools to provide greater assistance to incoming veterans at colleges and universities so that they can make the most of their GI bill and Yellow Ribbon (a federal higher education assistance bill for veterans) benefits. Because of filing deadlines and other issues, some students received funding late and had difficulties with rent and tuition payments. HB 2491 established a uniform course completion policy for veteran students called up to active duty. The goal is to ensure that college students suddenly called up for a military drill during a semester are not penalized for their military service.
For several years, Delegate Fleischauer served as Co-Chair of the Select Joint Interim Committee on Veterans Affairs. In between the yearly 60-day sessions, the Legislature holds interim meetings for three days each month to study problems and make recommendations for future legislation. The Committee’s initial focus was on veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When service members return to normal civilian life, the goal has been to ensure that our state does everything possible to ease the transition for them and for their families.
In 2007, the committee commissioned a survey led by West Virginia University researchers of all recent West Virginia veterans and service members who had applied for our state's veteran's bonus. The West Virginia Legislature was the only Legislature in the country to conduct such an extensive survey.
Over 1,000 West Virginia replied. The committee’s report, issued in 2008, gave a more complete picture of the difficulties veterans were experiencing, including higher rates of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than national estimates. The survey indicated that symptoms of depression and/or PTSD were experienced by nearly 48 percent of those who responded.
The Select Committee commissioned a second survey five years later, and a second report was issued. For the second survey, responses were sought from veterans of all ages who had served at any time. West Virginia service members and veterans aged 19-94 responded, resulting in the retrieval of twelve million points of data. The most critical finding was that about 20 percent of the surveyed veterans were at a clinically significant risk of suicide. In addition, a surprising number of veterans indicating they had experienced homelessness during periods of their lives, and female veterans with children reported they had been homeless at a higher rate.
There were also positive findings. For example, the majority of service members or veterans reported that they had adjusted well and were satisfied with their lives. Once again, no other state Legislature has conducted such an extensive survey of veterans and service members from all eras and campaigns.
As a result of the data collected during these surveys, Delegate Fleischauer passed legislation or helped secure funding for several programs that expanded education, employment, medical and mental health benefits, as well as other services for active members of the military or veterans of our state.