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June 26, 2002 Anchorage Daily News on Legislature's inaction on veterans bill

Posted: Tuesday, July 02, 2002

What are lawmakers waiting for? More veterans in need? The right political equation? A written invitation?

The Alaska Legislature dithered around with Gov. Tony Knowles' ''Year of the Veteran'' package for as long as it could. In the end, it approved much of what Alaska veterans asked for -- except for the centerpiece of the package, $2.6 million in state money to open about 100 vacant beds in the state Pioneer Homes, about 20 of which would go to older vets.

The Senate approved $1.5 million, but the House wouldn't go along and all the money was left out.

Even that $1.5 million appears to be a number without a rationale, done in the waning hours of the legislative session. ''Is it a bone they're tossin' to the veterans?'' asked Dean Hill, adjutant for the American Legion, at the governor's press conference Tuesday.

Bones won't cut it, as Alaska vets' leaders have made clear.

''The American Legion will not stop with an answer that has anything to do with 'no,' '' said Legion commander Chuck Unsworth.

The need is clear. Alaska, with a veterans' population of about 65,000, is the only state in the Union without either an established veterans' home or one under construction. There's a waiting list for the state Pioneer Homes of 180 people with immediate need -- people who would move in now, both veterans and nonveterans -- yet 100 beds are vacant because the Legislature has refused the money to staff them.

Veterans' leaders also have made clear that the governor has proposed this legislation at their urging, based on the needs of Alaskans who served. This shouldn't be a battle between Gov. Knowles -- a Vietnam veteran -- and Republican-led lawmakers, some of whom also are veterans. This is simply a matter of doing what's right for Alaska's veterans, a matter of decency, care and respect for those who served their country.

Can we afford it? Wrong question. How can we not afford this? Lawmakers spent $25,000 a day for a special session that wouldn't have been necessary had they done the people's business on time. Let's see, that $25,000 just about covers one of those vets' beds ...

Just before a teleconference last week, someone said ''Ten-hut!'' as the governor entered his conference room at the Capitol in Juneau. It's the Legislature that needs to snap to attention, for the sake of Alaska's veterans and their families.

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