Veterans Department revamp OK'd

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Duties of the current Department of Veterans Affairs will soon be expanded to include tasks such as protecting and promoting Hill Air Force Base and defense firms.

The Utah Senate voted 23-0 Wednesday to pass HB395 to codify such changes, and sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

It renames the agency to the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs — to reflect the new role of helping to protect local bases — and allows the governor to appoint the director.

The overhaul began when Herbert announced in December that Veterans Affairs Director Terry Schow would retire later this year, and Herbert sought to replace him with Gary Harter, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has worked in state economic development.

The move was not applauded universally by veterans, who worried that the agency may focus less on helping veterans and more on saving military bases and other economic development issues. Many of those critics have since fallen in line behind the change.

The measure also changes the makeup of the Veterans Advisory Council, which would advise the executive director. The council would be expanded from 11 members to 14. However, three of the members would be non-voting, and the 11 voting members would serve four-year terms.

Seven members would be appointed by the governor, and they must include a member from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.

Lee Davidson