Rhode Island lawmakers want college aid for veterans

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Noting the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and members of the state’s General Assembly on Wednesday detailed several proposal that they said would help veterans return to civilian life in Rhode island.

The legislation they highlighted would boost assistance to veterans enrolling in the state’s higher education system, give veterans preference in seeking state contracts and make it easier for them and their spouses to obtain professional licenses.

Another proposal would create a commission to study services for those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“I grew up in the Vietnam era and I can remember not only the horrible war but the returning veterans and the difficulties they had,” said Chafee, an independent. “Here we are, 10 years later (after the start of the Iraq war) and we are dealing with some of the same issues.”

Later Wednesday, the state Senate passed another of the proposals: legislation that would add a veteran and a representative from the U.S. Veterans’ Administration to a state council tasked with fighting homelessness. The Senate also passed several resolutions calling on state and federal agencies to do more to help veterans and small businesses owned by veterans.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can to help veterans have a smooth transition back to civilian life,” said Sen. Walter Felag, D-Warren, who leads the Senate’s veterans’ affairs committee.

The other bills remain under consideration and have not been scheduled for votes.

One Rhode Island veteran who spoke at Wednesday’s event said he was surprised to learn that while the state has programs designed to help businesses owned by minorities or women, businesses owned by veterans aren’t given the same preference. Emil Cipolla served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and now works for a medical supplies company. He said proposals to help returning service members can go a long way to making a veteran feel welcome and wanted.

“And the state would benefit from the strengths and skills of the veterans,” he said.

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