As Veterans Day nears, I am proud to say that Iowans pay particular attention to respecting and honoring our soldiers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and airmen - all of our veterans and their families.
Whether I'm at the Capitol in Des Moines or working with my constituents in Webster, Humboldt, Pocahontas and Calhoun counties, I often hear people saying "thank you" to their fellow Iowans for their service in the military and the sacrifices they make and have made for our country.
Maybe that's because Iowans in the armed forces have served our country in greater numbers per capita than any other state.
As chair of the Iowa Senate's Veterans Affairs Committee, I am proud of the steps the Legislature - in a bipartisan manner - has taken to help Army and Air National Guard members, veterans and their families.
Here's a recent example: Iowa was the first state in the nation to adopt the U.S. Department of Defense's Top 10 Practices to help soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Tim Orr, the adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, says more Iowans are deciding to join the Guard and re-enlisting when their service is up. He gives some of the credit for high recruitment and retention numbers to the Iowa Legislature's National Guard tuition assistance program and to Iowa's military homeownership grants, of used for first-time homebuyers.
The Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, which opened in 1887, is the largest home of its kind in the United States. It provides a wide range of health care services to veterans and is the largest nursing home in Iowa. For many Iowa veterans in need, the Iowa Veterans Home is their final home.
As more and more Iowans enlisted and were deployed overseas in service to our nation, the Legislature decided to create standing committees in the House and Senate to focus on the needs of service members, veterans and their families. In 2007, I was appointed chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and have held that position ever since.
A highlight of my work on that committee has been the renovation of the Iowa Veterans Home, which began in 2009. This multimillion dollar effort was a joint project of the state of Iowa and the federal Veterans Administration. Several years ago when I was visiting the Iowa Veterans Home I witnessed something that made me sad and I know would greatly disappoint Iowans who believe we should honor and respect our veterans. While waiting for a bathroom shared by four veterans that was in use, an older veteran urinated in his pants. I made a commitment then and there to provide a more homelike setting for our older warriors.
A major goal was to improve the quality of life for residents by adding additional private bedrooms and baths, more natural light, and better accommodations for Iowa veterans and their family members. An extensive on-site review by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gave the improvements a "perfect score."
This spring, when longtime friend Mike Schlesinger, the publisher and general manager of the Marshalltown newspaper, The Times Republican, told me he was concerned about the possibility of a drop in the quality of care at the Veterans Home under Commandant David Worley, I took action.
I met with residents and workers at the home. I spoke with Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Oversight Committee and the Veterans Committee. I talked privately with Gov. Branstad and his chief of staff. I organized a special meeting of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee where Commandant David Worley and his critics testified. The state ombudsman began an investigation at my request.
It soon became clear that our veterans were not receiving the respect and care that Iowans expected of the Iowa Veterans Home. Shortly thereafter, Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson was named the Home's chief operating officer. Several months later, Commandant Worley resigned and was replaced by Tymeson.
During this entire controversy, citizens from across the state repeatedly urged the Legislature to do right by our veterans. As we pushed forward, we always knew that Iowans would not compromise when it came to the basic quality of life and safety of those who had served their country. I was proud of not only our veterans, but of the many Iowans who spoke up in support of them.
Today, the Iowa Veterans Home is in good hands. I'm confident Commandant Jodi Tymeson is committed to providing Iowa veterans with the highest level of service possible, and doing so in an open, professional manner.
I'm proud to represent the 60,000 voters of my Senate district. My goal is to be an advocate for their concerns.
As chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I'm also proud to represent all of Iowa's veterans. I listen hard whenever I'm contacted by a veteran who has an idea of how Iowa can do more for veterans. And I take action if I hear that the state of Iowa is failing to do right by our veterans, service members, National Guard members and their families.
I know that when I speak up on behalf of veterans, I'll have plenty of allies. Here in Iowa, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature pay close attention to local veterans' organizations and advocacy groups who work with service members and veterans.
By working together, we've done more to help returning veterans seeking a college education or the technical skills to qualify for good-paying jobs. We've worked with employers to protect service members' jobs while serving overseas.
We've made it illegal to foreclose on the homes of active duty Iowa National Guard soldiers or their families. We created a grant program to help seriously injured service members and their families. And we've improved state efforts at the county level to connect veterans to the help they need and all the benefits they've earned.
This year, thanks to many, many people who helped raise the alarm, we helped replace someone who was the wrong person to lead the Iowa Veterans Home with someone who is the right person to lead that important organization.
We cannot do enough to honor and respect our veterans. On Veterans Day - and every day - let us remember, reflect upon and respect the sacrifices of the great men and women who wear and have worn the uniform of their country, and their families.
Have you a concern or an idea affecting Iowa's veterans? Please give me a call or send me an email:
Sen. Daryl Beall
Chair, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
Sen. Daryl Beall, a Democrat, lives in Fort Dodge with his wife Jo Ann and represents the people of Calhoun, Humboldt, Pocahontas and Webster counties. He is the vice chair of the Transportation Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Appropriations Subcommittee and the International Relations Committee. He also is a member of Agriculture Committee, Commerce Committee and Education Committee. He earned national recognition for his legislative work with veterans in 2012 as the recipient of the Charles Dick Medal of Merit by the National Guard Association of the United States.