I am a firm believer that we should honor and thank our veterans for their military service as often as we possibly can. What a truly noble and selfless sacrifice our brave men and women in uniform make on behalf of all of us.

One of the best ways I can think of to show our gratitude is to care for our veterans when they return home from overseas. That is why every year I work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to help pass legislation that will improve the quality of life for our veterans and their families.

Whether that means helping returning post-9/11 combat veterans find jobs or offering free state parks passes for disabled veterans, these kinds of programs are top priorities for me. This month, I visited the American Legion Post 12 in Norwalk with my friend and colleague, state. Sen. Carlo Leone, to talk about all the wonderful programs and benefits we created legislatively this session and last year. As Senate chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and a veteran himself, Leone is a strong advocate for military men and women. I am proud to work alongside Leone in creating programs that benefit veterans.

I am particularly proud of this year's big achievement -- a program to help returning combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan find jobs. As part of this year's job-creation legislation, we established a "STEP UP for Veterans" program to help unemployed post-9/11 combat veterans find work. The program seeks to reverse a troubling trend among young veterans, among whom unemployment rates reaches as high as 30 percent. That is unacceptable. The legislation I helped pass offers financial incentives to local companies that hire and train unemployed veterans returning home from combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Our bill authorizes $10 million in bonds for the program over two years.

Another significant bill we passed this year broadens veterans' eligibility for a key pretrial diversion program that will give veterans who committed certain non-violent offenses a second chance in the judicial system. Not only does this program give veterans a second chance, it is projected to save the state up to $3.7 million over two years in incarceration costs.

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A third veterans-focused bill we passed this year establishes two new crimes regarding desecration of a memorial honoring veterans. First, it makes it illegal to deface, mutilate, destroy or remove a war memorial and it makes it a crime to possess, purchase or sell a stolen memorial. Anyone convicted of either crime would face a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Other recent legislation includes a law requiring municipalities to waive interest on property taxes owed by soldiers serving in Afghanistan, a law giving veterans the option of having their veterans status noted on their state driver's license, and a law giving school boards the power to award high school diplomas to Korean War veterans who left high school early to fight for their country.

And finally, for veterans who were permanently disabled while serving their country, we now offer a small token of our deep gratitude for their sacrifice: lifetime free access to state parks throughout Connecticut.

We can never say "thank you" enough for the huge sacrifices that our military men and women have made in the name of defending our freedom, but we can welcome them home with open arms, hope for a good job and programs that aim to make a difference in their lives.

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