There are currently approximately 340,000 veterans in Oklahoma. Of those, almost 78,000 are considered peacetime veterans and are not eligible for admission to the state’s veterans’ centers. The Senate Veterans Committee held their first meeting Monday to study the disparity in eligibility and how it can be addressed.
“I’m grateful to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs for being at the forefront of this issue. Like them, I believe that our state veterans’ benefits should be offered to all veterans who served honorably,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “All veterans made the same commitment to serve our nation and they should all be honored for their service, sacrifice and commitment.”
Under current Oklahoma law, only veterans who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the current Persian Gulf conflicts are eligible for state benefits, which include admission to the state veterans’ centers. The veteran must have served 90 days active duty with at least one day of that service occurring during one of the above mentioned conflicts.
Veterans who served outside these time periods are considered peacetime veterans and are not eligible for admission. The peacetime conflicts include Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, and Panama. Marines who survived the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon would also not be eligible.
For example, if someone joined the military on May 7, 1975, they would be would be classified as a “war veteran” and, therefore, eligible for admission to a veterans center because they had one day of service during the Vietnam era. However, if someone joined the military only one day later on May 8, 1975, they would not be eligible for admission.
Simpson also pointed out that Oklahoma’s war veteran population is expected to drop from around 259,000 to 124,000 by 2035 with the loss of the state’s World War II and Korean War veterans.
“Even though the centers are currently full to capacity, and there is a waiting list, the decline in the veteran population over the coming years will create new opportunities. Oklahoma needs to be prepared to serve its veterans,” said Simpson, Senate Veterans Committee chairman. “If any changes are made, priority admission would still be provided to combat veterans, and those with service connected disabilities.”
Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) Deputy Director Danny Stewart thanked Simpson and the committee for their work on this study and other important veteran-related issues.
“ODVA greatly appreciated the opportunity to provide information to the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee relating to the admission of peacetime veterans into the Oklahoma Veterans Centers. This is an important issue for a significant portion of our veterans’ community in Oklahoma and we hope to continue discussions with the Legislature in the coming session,” said Stewart. “We also would like to thank Senator Frank Simpson for allowing the agency to present information on a number of other important issues relating to qualifications for state veterans benefits, including those for surviving spouses of deceased veterans.”
Additional information presented during the interim study can be viewed at www.oksenate.gov/publications/senate_studies/interim_studies.aspx by going to Study Number 13-03 and clicking “available” under Presentation & Reports.