Washington legislature unanimously passes bill to help over 35,000 veterans

The Washington State Legislature unanimously passed a bill on Friday that will help over 35,000 veterans access state benefits.

Right now, Washington doesn’t extend veteran benefits to service members who were less than honorably discharged. Critics said that excludes people who were let go after reporting sexual assault or for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A ‘very narrow set of conditions’

Washington offers benefits to veterans who were discharged under a “very narrow set of conditions,” according to a news release from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

“This disproportionately impacts veterans who are BIPOC, identify as LGBTQ and were discharged before the military ended its restrictive policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ survived military sexual assault or had mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder,” wrote the release.

House Bill (HB) 2014 will ensure veterans who qualify for federal benefits also qualify for state benefits. Any veteran discharged solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity will qualify for state benefits, even if they don’t qualify for federal benefits, according to the release.

The legislation will allow those veterans access to housing assistanceVeterans Affairs (VA) nursing homeshiring preferences and other state benefits.

HB 2014 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Volz, R-Spokane, and was requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, sponsored a Senate version of the bill.

How the bill will make a difference

Ferguson also said HB 2014 will allow these Washington veterans to access necessary benefits.

“If Washington’s veterans can get benefits from the VA, then they should be able to get critical benefits from the state they live in,” Ferguson said in a news release. “This simple and long overdue change will improve the lives of tens of thousands of Washington veterans. I appreciate Rep. Volz’s partnership on this bill.”

Volz noted although the bill will impact a relatively small group of veterans, having access to those benefits is significant.

“This bill would affect a small percentage of service members that did not receive an honorable or dishonorable discharge,” he said. “But it’s a big deal for these service members who need these benefits.”

He added the bill is trying to define the qualifications for benefits.

“It will not change anyone’s level of service who has already received an honorable discharge. This legislation is simply trying to define what the standard is to qualify for benefits and under what circumstances,” he said. “Any service member with any discharge other than a dishonorable one should have access to all veteran benefits and programs.”

The bill is now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.

Originally posted at mynorthwest.com