I was recently honored with an opportunity to meet with the Alabama State Board of Veterans Affairs. An appointment was made for me by the Chairman of the Board, Governor Robert Bentley. The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) board is made up of 18 positions which represent a variety of service organizations, such as The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans and American Veterans to name a few. The number of voting positions on the board is based upon the number of members in the organization. Although I serve in a position held by the American Veterans (AMVETS), I feel I represent all Alabama Veterans. I must admit, I was not sure exactly what the State Board was responsible for and I was surprised at how many issues they are involved in. Rear Admiral Clyde Marsh, USN (Ret.), who assumed the duties as State Commissioner and Director of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) in 2005, is responsible for all administrative and executive duties. Although certainly not all inclusive, I would like to share some of the programs the ADVA manages.
Under the ADVA are the Veterans Service Offices (VSOs). There are over 50 VSOs throughout Alabama. Their primary function is the assist veterans, their families and their survivors with the processing of claims for benefits and entitlements not only with the state, but also with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This can be everything from compensation and pensions claims to applying for a special veteran’s license plate.
The Alabama GI Dependent Scholarship program was created in 1947 and is governed by the Code of Alabama 1975. There are a number of requirements to be met in order to establish eligibility of dependents. However, I want to point out the most recent change in this program, on March 18, 2014. Governor Bentley signed into law Act No. 2014-177, which amended critical portions of the scholarship program. This eliminates the requirement that a veteran must have served during a wartime period or under extra-hazardous conditions, which means dependents that were not eligible before, may be now.
Another major issue facing Veterans today is homelessness. The ADVA has established a homeless veteran program that will advise and assist veterans and their dependents who have become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless. They will help seek out local organizations that offer assistance to those in need.
The State of Alabama is extending a special kind of care to veterans through a partnership with the federal government and private industry by proudly operating four state of the art Veterans’ Homes. These are the Bill Nichols Home in Alexander City, the William F. Green Home in Bay Minette, the Colonel Robert L. Howard Home in Pell City and one that is near and dear to my heart, the Floyd E. “Tut” Fan Home in Huntsville. I have seen firsthand how great these homes are and how well they are run while visiting one of my favorite veterans, Theo Calvin, at the Tut Fan Home.
Also managed by the ADVA is the first State Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort. This 120-acre site was dedicated in Dec 2012 and began interments in 2013. The initial phase, which encompasses 22.8 acres, has over 2,776 burial sites. Pre-registration is available for veterans and their spouses.
As I said earlier, this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to benefits that the state offers for Alabama’s Veterans. For more information on any of the programs mentioned above or other
services provided by the State of Alabama, please visit http://www.va.state.al.us/ or contact your local Veterans’ Service Officer.
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum