Utah's Veterans Affairs department will be reorganized as the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs and will get a much bigger job under HB 395.
The agency will now work to keep and increase jobs on military bases as well as continue to work with veterans. Prominent veterans fought the change, sought by Gov. Gary Herbert, but the House and Senate unanimously endorsed the plan.
Many veterans feared the new department would emphasize economic development at the expense of veterans and balked at the governor's apparent choice of Gary Harter, from his Office of Economic Development, to replace Terry Schow. Herbert in December asked Schow, the long-time director, to retire.
The legislation also reduces the Veterans Advisory Council's role in picking the executive director and expands the council from seven to 11 members. The governor and Legislature did grant one of the departing director's wishes: a bigger staff two new positions to better serve veterans. The department is building a database of Utah's veterans so it's easier to tell them about services or advise them of events.
The Legislature also re-upped the Veterans Reintegration Task Force for a second year, and passed two bills it suggested:
• SB 126 mandates that state agencies serving veterans work together better and creates a new veterans' services coordinator to take the lead.
• HB 254 requires the state's colleges, universities and applied technical schools to give credit for military classes or experience if it's recommended by their governing bodies. Vets also would have to sit down with a counselor at the start of their college or technical school careers to ensure getting the prior credit makes sense.