Every day, Connecticut's military personnel and their families make sacrifices in order to serve their country and protect the rights and freedoms that we all hold so dear.

Despite our state's continuing fiscal troubles and the ongoing negative effects of the nationwide recession, all agree that there are still things we can do to help meet the needs of our veterans and to make life just a little bit easier for them.

Recently, the state Senate approved two bills that enhance benefits and improve service to our veterans without impacting the state budget. The first bill would revise state statute to require that one member of the state Board of Trustees for the Department of Veterans' Affairs be a member of a veterans' organization representing or serving disabled veterans.

The Board of Trustees was first authorized in 1988, and it serves a very important role. The board advises and assists in the operation of the state Veterans' Home; the veterans' advocacy and assistance unit; the administration, expansion or modification of programs and services; and the development of new services. It also reviews and approves certain agency regulations and is charged with making recommendations to the governor for improving service delivery.

Disabled American Veterans is the third largest veterans' organization in Connecticut; however, according to testimony provided to the General Assembly's Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs, it has not had representation on the Board of Trustees in nearly two years. It's imperative that we're meeting the needs of this very vulnerable population of servicemen and women, which makes this legislation a simple but important measure. Requiring that an advocate for disabled veterans serves on the board will help ensure those needs are met to the best of our ability.

A second bill approved by the Senate this year extends authorization for veterans' automotive license plates to a member of the U.S. armed forces or their surviving spouse who requests it -- another simple measure that seeks to improve how we as a state recognize our veterans and thank them for their service.

Under current law, only veterans or their surviving spouses who have owned or leased a motor vehicle for one year or longer can qualify for special veterans plates; the law authorizes a spouse or other immediate family member of a resident killed in action while on active duty to request a "Gold Star Family" plate.

By law, a veteran is an individual honorably discharged or released under honorable conditions from active duty in the U.S. armed forces. The bill requires an armed forces member who is dishonorably discharged to return the plates within 30 days after the discharge. Veterans' plates cannot be renewed for any motor vehicle that a dishonorably discharged member owns or leases.

A third measure recently approved in both the state House of Representatives and Senate and currently awaiting action from the governor would allow boards of education to award high school diplomas to Korean War veterans who left school early to enlist in the armed forces.

Currently, boards can do so for World War II veterans. This bill covers honorably discharged veterans who served actively from June 27, 1950, to Oct. 27, 1953, in the United States Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Air Force or any of their reserve components, including the Connecticut National Guard.

These veterans sacrificed a vital portion of their education to serve their country, a sacrifice that this legislation recognizes, acknowledges and thanks them for. With overwhelmingly bipartisan support in the legislature, it's my hope that all three of these bills will be passed and signed into law this year.

State Sen. Bob Duff represents the 25th district, which includes parts of Darien and Norwalk.

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