The state’s lieutenant governor is exploring ways to improve service for the nearly 495,000 veterans that call Missouri home.
Mike Parson held a veterans town hall in Springfield Friday morning, part of a series of visits throughout the city to discuss issues ranging from economic development to domestic violence. About 25 people attended the morning event at the Mid-town Library, which also included representatives with local veterans service organizations.
Parson, who served six years in the U.S. Army, says Missouri’s veteran population ranks 15th nationwide. He believes more can be done to assist those that have served their country.
“And we can do that through the tax structure some ways on limiting some of their taxes,” said Parson. “The gentlemen today brought up Purple Heart recipients. Maybe there is a way if you have a disability that we take a certain percentage of your disability – whatever your disability is – maybe we do away with that percentage of taxes for that person.”
Parson’s visit comes as lawmakers are working to trim down over $550 million in expenditures due to a budget shortfall. Higher education was dealt the biggest blow, with $68 million less in core funding proposed by Gov. Eric Greitens.
Upon unveiling his budget in February, Greitens – a former Navy SEAL - pledged $5.5 million to ensure quality care for veterans’ home residents and access to care for those with service-related disabilities. He also called for more ancillary facilities at veterans’ homes and cemeteries. Another $2.5 million will go toward expanding drug courts and veterans’ treatment courts.
Parson noted that until the appropriations process is complete, it’s tough to assess any other boosts to veterans programs or cuts, including funding for the Show-Me Heroes program and mental health dollars. He added the state can’t spend more than what it has.
“At the end of the day, I wanna tell you this – whether it makes everybody happy or not - we’re gonna balance the budget,” says Parson.
Among the issues brought up at Friday’s town hall was lengthy wait times for veterans’ services, which has fueled criticism of the VA system in recent years. Some attendees pointed to a lack of procedural understanding among all service organization staff, while Parson noted excessive bureaucratic requirements. The lieutenant governor says it’s an issue he and Greitens have discussed.
“One of the things we’re gonna do is we’re gonna go on a fact-finding mission. So if you’re one of those places that have that delay I would just say you’re gonna expect to get some visits from the state, especially from my office or the governor’s office explaining why that is.”
Other veterans talked about the importance of honoring past and present members of the military by sharing their stories and holding events to acknowledge their service, while educating youth on the nation’s history of military involvement.
Robert Crampton, a retired Army sergeant, informed the town hall of a new weekly program beginning March 10 on KICK FM called Salute to Veterans. It aims to highlight military members and their families, the issues they face, and services available.
Crampton is also a member of Volunteers for Outdoor Missouri, which teaches trail building to veterans.
He told KSMU that in addition to learning how to build trails, the program “Would open the door for them getting a job in agriculture or in parks or city parks or this kind of thing. Or get them out in the open where they can work off their post-traumatic stress disorders.”
Crampton says it took him 15 years “to work out of” his own PTSD. He believes more can be done to educate the public so they understand the needs of those suffering with the disorder.
On wait times for VA services, Crampton feels the new Springfield VA Clinic will alleviate many of those issues for local veterans. Crews broke ground on the complex last year, with a scheduled opening in 2018.
Parson, who believes he and Greitens make up the only veteran lieutenant governor-governor duo in the nation, says the distinction brings a big responsibility for Missouri government to serve its military members.
“And I want to. It’s why I’m coming here to Springfield to talk to these people. I want to know what it is that’s really on their minds and just not the normal bureaucracy statements. I wanna know what I can do, and I plan on doing some things.”