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Lawmakers form veterans caucus focused on education, jobs, more

From left to right, members of the new veterans caucus at the Arizona State Legislature include Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix; Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City; and Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Matthew Longdon)

From left to right, members of the new veterans caucus at the Arizona State Legislature include Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix; Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City; and Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Matthew Longdon)

Seven state lawmakers have created a veterans caucus focused on improving education, job opportunities and mental health services for former military.

“We all served in recent conflicts and we know the issues that affect us,” said Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, who served in the Army and the National Guard.

Members of the caucus, which includes five Democrats and two Republicans, held a news conference Thursday to discuss their goals, which include involving more veterans serving in the Legislature.

“Arizona is very patriotic state and we want to send a message,” said Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, a former Marine.

Borrelli said he wants to make it easier for veterans to get jobs by allowing military training to count toward civilian licenses. He introduced HB 2076 to accomplish that.

He also wants military experience to count toward college credits.

“If you were an administrative clerk and you had to write a lot of letters, I think English 101 should be wiped off the chart,” Borrelli said. “You already have that skill.”

David F. Lucier, president of the Arizona Veterans & Military Leadership Alliance, said he hopes the caucus helps establish Arizona as the nation’s most supportive state for veterans. He said lawmakers can help veterans by addressing high rates of homelessness and suicide, among other problems.

“This is a huge step in bringing public policy for ensuring veteran success,” he said.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, the House assistant minority leader and a former Marine, said members of the caucus will focus on crafting bipartisan legislation. He noted that most of the members are veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Everyone supports veterans issues while the war is going on, but veteran issues don’t go away after the war ends,” he said. “They’re still there and they increase.”

Cardenas and Borrelli said they are collaborating on a bill to provide greater incentives for private businesses to hire disabled veterans.

“We actually know people who are unemployed and have been bouncing job to job,” Borrelli said.

Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale, a former Marine, said he will introduce a bill to extend education benefits for returning veterans who now receive up to 36 months of assistance through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“A lot of veterans get off active duty and that’s a big adjustment,” Larkin said. “They juggle going to school, going to work and raising a family, and we don’t pass all our classes because life comes up. The bill would give them more time to complete their degree.”

Caucus members:

• Rep. Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu City, Marine Corps
• Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, Navy
• Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, Army, National Guard
• Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, Army
• Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, Marine Corps
• Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale, Marine Corps
• Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, Army

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