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— About 260,000 veterans of the Armed Forces live in Arkansas and 50,136 veterans or their spouses receive disability compensation or pension payments.

Veterans Day, a state holiday will be commemorated next week in numerous locations across the state as Arkansans gather to honor the men and women who have served their country. According to the American Legion, an organization of veterans created by Congress in 1919, fewer than 10 percent of Americans are veterans.

Congress and the federal government have authority for the vast majority of military and veterans affairs. It is an extension of the policy that the federal government, rather than individual state governments, have sole authority over the conduct of our nation's foreign policy. In its dealings with the rest of the world, the United States acts as a single nation and not as a group of different states with different interests.

However, state government provides some services for veterans. The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs administers benefit programs, and acts as an advocate for veterans seeking eligibility for services.

Also, the state maintains two nursing care facilities for veterans. The one in Little Rock was founded in 1980 and the one in Fayetteville took in its first resident in 2004.

The federal government maintains veterans hospitals at Fayetteville, Little Rock and North Little Rock. Last year the Fayetteville VA hospital admitted 14,824 patients and the two in central Arkansas admitted 10,574 patients.

The three hospitals combined had more than a million outpatient visits. There also are 11 VA outpatient clinic locations throughout Arkansas.

The Veterans Administration hospitals provide post-conflict care for men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2008 the hospitals in Arkansas provided treatment for 5,393 veterans from those conflicts - 2,273 in Fayetteville and 3,120 in central Arkansas.

Nationwide about 2.9 million veterans receive a monthly disability compensation for medical problems resulting from their military service. About 316,000 wartime veterans get a VA pension because they have low incomes and few or no assets. About 528,000 family members of veterans receive a monthly payment as survivors of disabled veterans or pension recipients.

In Arkansas 36,468 veterans receive a monthly disability check. Another 5,134 receive a VA pension check and 8,534 survivors of disabled veterans receive a compensation or pension check. In all, 50,136 Arkansans receive some form of disability compensation.

The VA, a federal agency, manages 128 national veterans cemeteries, including three in Arkansas at Little Rock, Fayetteville and Fort Smith. Last year 801 veterans were buried in them.

In 1997 the legislature established an 82-acre cemetery in North Little Rock that is maintained by the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Last year 378 veterans were buried there. The North Little Rock cemetery also has niches in a columbarium for entombments from cremations. The eligibility criteria and costs are the same as for regular sized graves, but the plaques are smaller and cannot fit as long an inscription.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please contact me at HendrenK @ arkleg.state.ar.us or call me at 479-787-6500, extension 30.

Opinion, Pages 9 on 11/04/2009

Print Headline: Capitol Reports Managing Veterans’ Affairs

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