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Notes from Toni – November

Posted: November 20th, 2015 | Columns, Featured, Notes from Toni | No Comments

By Toni G. Atkins | Speaker of the Assembly

I’ve been thinking a lot about military veterans lately.

It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but San Diego’s annual Stand Down for homeless vets was in July — it’s one of the events I’m most proud to support and attend.

Toni Atkins

Toni Atkins

And last month, I took part in a veterans homelessness summit put together by Mike McConnell, a passionate and tireless advocate for ending homelessness in San Diego if there ever was one. As a group, we talked about who needs help, what kind of help they need, what resources are being deployed, what the gaps in assistance are, and how to implement the solutions that we know will work.

For my part, I spoke about the progress being made in the wake of the voter-approved Proposition 41, which is funding affordable housing for veterans, as well as the help that the state’s cap-and-trade program is bringing to the table, and the need to pass my affordable-housing bill, AB 1335.

November is an especially appropriate time to think about veterans. Veterans Day was Nov. 11 and it’s also the month when we’re reminded to give thanks, and I am incredibly thankful for their service to our country, whether they were drafted and sent to Vietnam or they volunteered and did multiple tours in the Middle East.

Did you know that there are still nearly 850,000 living American veterans of World War II, out of a total of more than 16 million service members from that era?

This is also the time of year when I get to spend a lot of time at home in San Diego, now that the year’s legislative session has ended. I’m able to get out and about, talking to community groups of all sorts and sizes. I enjoy these encounters with interested and engaged citizens and the opportunity to update them on the many things the Legislature has accomplished throughout the year. Among the policy areas that interest me the most is veterans affairs, and here are some of the things I’ve been able to tell folks about how we’re making progress:

  • We’ve provided additional funding for county veterans service officers, who play critical advocacy and outreach roles, helping California veterans access the benefits they’ve earned. San Diego County received $238,747 in additional funding for this effort.
  • We’ve also pushed to create permanent state “Strike Force” teams at federal veteran claims offices. Since September 2013, the San Diego Strike Force has reviewed 14,124 veteran claims, resulting in $19.5 million in lump-sum awards and $3.1 million in monthly awards.
  • And we’ve helped fund the California National Guard’s Work for Warriors program, which connects guard members and reservists with jobs. Between 2012 and 2015, 172 local candidates found employment.

The United States is truly a great country, but one area where it needs significant improvement is making sure all of its military veterans are adequately served after they’ve served us so selflessly.

On Nov. 26, while you’re talking around the dinner table about all the things for which you’re grateful — loving family, loyal friends, good health, plenty of tasty food and drink — maybe put in a nice word or two for our veterans who’ve answered the call of duty.

And have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Around the District: Gov. Jerry Brown signed nine of my bills this year, including AB 226, inspired by our own Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, each Saturday on the Tuna Harbor Pier near Seaport Village, and AB 392, which makes the San Diego River Conservancy permanent … Don’t forget that the open enrollment period for Covered California began Nov. 1 and continues through Dec. 15. See coveredca.com for more details and new coverage options, including dental.

—Toni G. Atkins is the Speaker of the California State Assembly. For more information, please visit her website, asmdc.org/speaker where you can sign up for her e-newsletter or get the latest news on legislation and other activities. You also may follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.

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