This July, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina and Utah joined Georgia, Oregon and Minnesota in providing designation of veteran status on veteran's drivers' licenses. To most Americans, this is no big deal. Most of us have seen a veteran vanity license plate on cars on the road. For veterans and officials responsible for providing services to them, however, this small distinction makes a significant difference in their lives for three key reasons.
First, states with heavy veteran populations like Texas and California have seen a decline in the number of veteran county service workers that assist veterans in navigating their benefits. California in particular has seen their veteran's benefit participation rate drop to 12.86%, which is lower than the national average of 13.94%. Identifying who is a veteran is a critical step in promoting and delivering benefits to them. A convenient and cost effective method to identify veterans is through a questionnaire on their driver's license applications. For veterans, there are incentives for them to positively identify themselves on their licenses.
Second, many businesses offer military discounts to active duty personnel, retirees, military spouses and veterans. To take advantage of these discounts, a veteran needs to show a valid ID. Unfortunately, if an honorably discharged veteran is not under VA care or is not disabled, they are not eligible for an ID card from the Veterans Administration. According to Terrence Thomas, a Navy veteran and CEO of the Military and Veterans Discount Center, "there are over 225,000 businesses nationwide that provide military discounts. Most business owners we come across assume that a veteran is a retiree and has some form of ID. Many veterans without an ID feel like they are perpetrating a fraud when asking for a military discount and cannot produce a valid ID." If states step up and provide this designation on veteran's driver's licenses, these embarrassing situations will come to an end.
The third and undeniably the most important factor is a simple designation on veterans' driver licenses serves as a continuous reminder to both the veteran and to those that come across them that America is grateful for their service. As Terrence told me, the last item most veterans receive when they leave the service is a DD-214 (which is their discharge papers). For civilians, a close equivalent to this would be receiving a diploma for high school or college graduation. Unlike those graduations, which come with ceremonies, celebrations and end up with a prized memento hanging on a wall, a DD-214 is given to a veteran with little or no fan fare. Soon to be veterans are emphatically told to lock their discharge papers away in a safe place where they won't get lost. Symbolically, providing a designation on a veteran's driver's license will become a proud memento that an individual has served and vets can look at their licenses with pride.
In order to keep veterans informed of the progress of each state as it relates to veterans distinction on driver's licenses, the Military and Veterans Discount Center has created a state veterans designation watch. Currently, Alaska, Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina have pending veteran designation legislation and the MVDCs goal is to get citizens in those states, particularly veterans, to contact their elected officials and get these bills passed. "These bills really don't meet much opposition as everyone is for them," said Thomas. "They just seem to die as most people feel like it is a no brainer. It is kind of like the DD-214 they tell you to lock away in a safe place where it won't get lost. People end up forgetting about it." With or without the state veterans designation watch, all states need to step up and provide this designation so no one forgets about the sacrifices veterans have made for this country.