The last few weeks of the legislative session have really accelerated in activity.  Most of the work has been at the subcommittee level with some bills making their way through committees. We are quickly coalescing around a final K-12 education funding target which will uphold our commitment to education here in Iowa.

One of the things I wanted to write about this week is another commitment we must uphold, and that is to Iowa’s active duty, Reserve and National Guard personnel as well as our veterans. Of the many things I have to be thankful, certainly one is the honor to be appointed as chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for the 88th General Assembly.

Here is some of the neat work we’re doing inside of our Veterans Affairs Committee:

SF 63 – Service Animals

One of the issues I’ve been working on is supporting service animals.  A few years ago I spoke with a veteran here in Council Bluffs suffering from PTSD and was assigned a service animal. She told her story of how she was out shopping one day and her service dog was attacked by someone’s companion animal, and she had to pull the other dog off her service dog due to that owner not even being able to regain control of their animal. My colleagues and I have heard numerous stories like this where, unfortunately, a few are abusing a system, subsequently causing more stress on those with true disabilities (the most shocking was someone’s companion iguana getting loose in an Iowa grocery store).

This is a bill with numerous functions. First and foremost, it connects the patients with practitioners to open a dialogue and establish if a service animal is indeed needed as treatment and requires the service animal to be directly related to the specific disability. The bill also provides a penalty for those who intentionally misrepresent an animal as a service animal in public areas and will likely include other elements to address the presence of non-service animals in areas of greater health risks, like grocery stores.

HF 157 – Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

Last year, I had the privilege of speaking with a group of passionate vets who expressed their desire for treatment options where they weren’t required to go through surgery and didn’t want to be prescribed additional medications or use illegal narcotics. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is the medical use of oxygen and high air pressure levels to treat a myriad of health issues. Essentially, the practice increases the availability of oxygen in the body, while reducing pain through the minimization of air pockets throughout the body. There are four such chambers in Iowa. This bill would establish a fund to assist in reimbursing veterans who seek hyperbaric treatments for PTSD, hearing, or any other service-related ailments that qualify for hyperbaric treatment.

SF 126 – Notification of the Arrest of a Veteran

Iowa has a series of specialty courts throughout the state and one of the issues I have an interest in is exploring the possibility of expanding Veteran Courts (currently the sole one in Iowa in operates in Woodbury County). The problem with all of our specialty courts is the lack of uniformity in best practices and, as related to the Veteran Court, the lack of good data as well as the ability to verify a person’s military status. The bill provides that within 24 hours of the veteran’s incarceration, personnel of the jail or municipal holding facility shall inform the County Commission of Veteran Affairs of the incarceration of a veteran. During the subcommittee for this bill, many veteran groups expressed support for this bill as a positive step forward towards capturing better data as well as create a more timely notification of county veteran affairs commissions.

While the list of ideas within our committee is long with many possibilities, support for these initiatives is building. The policies have potential to make a positive impact on many Iowa veterans.