Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

BATON ROUGE – Today, Governor Bobby Jindal unveiled three legislative proposals he will pursue during the upcoming legislative session in support of Louisiana veterans.

Governor Jindal said, “Over the past six years, we have pursued policies to help our brave veterans who put their lives on the line in defense of our freedom. These new proposals build on our previous work in order to help veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for our country.”

First, Governor Jindal will pursue legislation to expand residential lease protections for military service members and their spouses.

Current law allows service members to terminate residential lease agreements without penalty under certain circumstances related to their military service.  However, these lease protections don’t apply in circumstances where a service member has been hospitalized or has been killed. Also, often these leases are under a spouse’s name and lease protections cannot apply. 

The legislation will expand the current applicable lease protection to military spouses.  It will also expand protections for service members who have been injured requiring hospitalization as well as those who have been killed while on active duty.  The legislation will also require court costs, attorney’s fees, and putative damages to be paid by a lessor to a military service member or spouse prevailing in a suit against a lessor violating the terms of the law.

Representative Nick Lorusso will author this legislation.

"By nature of their service to our country, members of the U.S. Armed Forces must often relocate their families in order to serve at a variety of military installations," says Louisiana State Representative Nick Lorusso.  "This legislation ensures that our brave military personnel and their spouses will be protected from unfair or overly strict residential leasing practices and gives them greater flexibility to make decisions that best serve their family."

Second, Governor Jindal will pursue legislation that will establish a voluntary registry for veterans exposed to dangerous burn pits during wartime.

In 1985, a registry was enacted to coordinate statewide outreach, education and advocacy towards Vietnam Veterans who suffered health complications from exposure to Agent Orange.  Since that time, several illnesses or diseases have been linked to the exposure, such as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Leukemia, Ischemic Heart Disease, Prostate Cancer, and a number of other serious medical issues.

Today, many Gulf War era and post-9/11 Veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn are suffering from illnesses that may have been caused by exposure to open-air burn pits. Many open-air burn pits were operated close to where many soldiers were housed during wartime.

This legislation will create a voluntary registry of self-identifying service members and veterans who have been exposed to burn pits.  The registry will be created and managed by the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (LDVA).

The LDVA will be responsible for informing those in the registry about recent scientific developments on the effects of exposure, availability of possible treatments, applying for service-connected disability compensation benefits with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as appealing an existing or requesting an upgrade to a disability rating given by VA.

Senator John Smith will author this legislation.

"Some of today's younger Veterans are experiencing serious health problems caused by their exposure to open-air burn pits used in Afghanistan and Iraq," states Louisiana State Senator John Smith.  "Much like our Vietnam Veterans who suffered because of exposure to Agent Orange, these Veterans are struggling to have their health issues addressed and recognized at the Federal level.  This legislation ensures that the injustice suffered by our Vietnam Veterans is not repeated and that the Veterans who fight today are recognized, cared for in a timely manner and are provided with every resource available to them."

Third, Governor Jindal will pursue legislation that authorizes courts to create specialized Veteran's Treatment Court Programs

Current drug courts provide an effective tool in combatting recidivism by criminal offenders.  However, many veterans that are suffering from substance abuse and are caught up in the criminal justice system today do not have access to a specialized system suited to their unique circumstances and needs.

This legislation authorizes courts to create specialized Veteran’s Treatment Court Programs throughout Louisiana to assist veterans overcoming drug and substance abuse issues and any mental health issues contributing to involvement with the criminal justice system.  The court programs will operate like current drug court programs throughout the state but will function in a manner specifically tailored for veterans. These specialized courts can tap into available federal resources and will help veterans access federal veteran programs and services offered for reintegration and rehabilitation.

Among the goals of the Veteran's Courts Program:

• To reduce drug and alcohol abuse and dependency among veteran offenders and to reduce criminal recidivism among veterans

• To assist veterans with undiagnosed mental health problems and assist in the care and treatment of diagnosed mental health illnesses among veterans

• To increase the personal, familial, and societal accountability of veteran offenders

• To provide housing assistance for homeless veterans; to provide employment and job training for veterans; and to provide VA benefits counseling services

Senator Elbert Guillory will author this legislation.

"Veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the criminal justice system often do so because they suffer from a mental health disorder or some form of substance abuse," says Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory.  "We must remember that these Veterans served our country with honor.  By establishing Veteran's Treatment Court Programs, this legislation ensures that we honor their service by providing these Veterans with the help they deserve and the resources they need while also reducing the costs associated with incarceration."