A bill being considered by West Virginia lawmakers would create a new cabinet level position to better serve the needs of the state's military veterans.
The House of Delegates' Veterans Affairs Committee has passed the bill that would form the Department of Veterans Assistance.
It would replace the Division of Veterans Affairs, and it would consolidate many of the veterans' services that have been scattered throughout many different departments.
The move has the support of the West Virginia Veterans Council.
"I like the new department's title very much," said Del. Peggy Donaldson Smith, D-Lewis. "I see our role in the Legislature as providing assistance to the veterans and not simply reviewing veterans affairs."
The bill calls for the governor to appoint a Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Assistance, a position that would be equal to other state-level secretaries, such as Transportation, Public Safety, and Commerce.
The position would have a salary of $95,000.
The bill also continues the Veterans' Council, a nine-member group of state residents who have served and have been honorably discharged or separated from the military and whose service was done during a time of war as defined by the laws of the United States.
One member of that council must be a veteran World War II, one member a veteran of the Korean War, two members who are veterans of the Vietnam War, one member a veteran of the first Gulf War, and one member a veteran of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq.
"I am in great hopes that this bill will pass the House and the Senate," Smith said. "Even though we are in the final weeks of the session, I feel confident that it will pass the Legislature, and that the governor will sign the bill."
Smith said the bill is a "necessary and important step" in serving the state's veterans.
She said by having a single department to coordinate the variety of services offered to veterans will make things easier and more efficient for those who served their country."Providing services to our devoted and sacrificing veterans is important to our state, and the elevation of this department reflects that recognition," Smith said.
"Most of the veterans groups were present when we passed it out of the Veterans Affairs committee. Their support for the bill speaks volumes. If those state veterans organizations support the bill, then I support the bill. I honor their wishes and support the bills and programs they recommend."
The bill is pending before the House Organization Committee.