Proposal to create Delaware Department of Veterans' Affairs advances through House committee

By Joseph Edelen
Posted 5/15/24

This story will be updated.

DOVER - A proposal to create a new, statewide Department of Veterans' Affairs received glaring support in committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 399, sponsored by …

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already a member? Log in to continue.   Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Proposal to create Delaware Department of Veterans' Affairs advances through House committee

Rep. Bill Carson, D-Smyrna, discusses the need for a state-level Department of Veterans Affairs in committee on Wednesday.


DOVER — A proposal to create a statewide Department of Veterans’ Affairs received widespread support in a House of Representatives’ committee meeting Wednesday.

As the legislation heads to its next step in the legislative process, Wednesday’s House Veterans’ Affairs Committee meeting provided an outlet for Delaware veterans to discuss the needs of their population — such as improving the availability of medical services — and how the state can better assist in that effort.

“We need a voice in this state. We do not have a voice speaking for veterans,” said Paul Davis, vice president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition and president of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s Delaware council.

House Bill 399, sponsored by Rep. Bill Carson, D-Smyrna - a Delaware Air National Guard veteran - would place a majority of duties currently handled by the Commission of Veterans’ Affairs under a new department.

While the commission would continue under its current structure, Rep. Carson noted that the group be placed within the umbrella of the new Department of Veterans’ Affairs rather than the Department of State.

The department would then be responsible for advocating for veterans at the federal level; managing the Delaware Veterans Home; operating the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery; maintaining records of veteran service documents; administering the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund; and advising other state agencies on veteran programs.

Rony Baltazar, director of policy and communications for the Department of State, emphasized the department’s commitment to Delaware veterans, referencing the agency’s work at the Delaware Veterans Home and the Office of Veterans Services.

On behalf of the state department, he raised concerns with the bill, such as its nearly $1 million price tag, which was not included in Gov. John Carney’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2025.

“I think that the secretary of state has failed the veterans of Delaware. … The veterans … need this bill,” Rep. Carson said in response while questioning the extent of Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock’s involvement with veteran groups. “This job, under the previous administration, was thrust upon the secretary of state and I think that it’s time we move veterans under veterans.”

The legislation would benefit the over 70,000 veterans living in the state and their families, Delaware Veterans Coalition president Dave Skocik said. He added that a very small portion of the state budget goes toward directly helping veterans, and that the establishment of an agency could help streamline services to assist Delaware’s population.

During the hearing, Rep. Carson called Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, as a witness. The Vietnam combat veteran revealed he is battling cancer that stems from his exposure to Agent Orange, and that he just recently learned of some of the benefits available to him and his family.

“That’s a shame. That’s because we don’t have anyone advocating for the veterans in this state on a federal level, and without that, we’re leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, on the table,” Sen. Lawson said. “This bill is critical.”

Several veterans traveled to Legislative Hall to testify in support of the legislation, with a number referencing the needs of the Milford-based Delaware Veterans Home. The facility has struggled to house veterans to full capacity due in part to competitive wages in the private long-term care sector.

House Bill 399 received unanimous support from lawmakers, leading to its release from committee. Military veteran committee members – such as Rep. Jeff Hilovsky, R-Millsboro, and chairman Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington - also spoke in favor of the bill and how it could streamline efforts to benefit Delaware’s veteran population.

Just before the roll call vote, Rep. Carson noted that there is still work to be done on the bill, and that he will continue discussions with Delaware veterans groups.

Following the bill’s passage, it was placed on the ready list for consideration from the full House of Representatives.

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.