Senate Military Committee advance bills to make discharge documents more accessible, help veterans enjoy the outdoors

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “I have a step-son who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He came back with a little bit of PTSD and so forth. The way that he feels best is by going out into the woods – that’s his therapy.”

That’s what Tucker County resident David Frex told the Senate Military Committee on Monday, while explaining the motivation behind SB 447. Sponsored by Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, the bill seeks to provide a lifetime tax credit to disabled veterans for the acquisition of hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses. 

David Frex speaks in favor of SB 447 during the Feb. 6 meeting of the Senate Military Committee.

“We (Frex and step-son) were talking about it, and trying to figure out a way to encourage other veterans to similarly go out and just relax and rest as a way of therapy,” Frex said. “So the idea was to let veterans have a break on their hunting and fishing license.”

Frex said that his original concept was to waive licensing fees for disabled veterans. However, “I found out after a conversation with the previous director (Steve McDaniel) of the DNR (Division of Natural Resources), that wasn’t a very prudent way to address the issue.”

Frex further explained that the DNR receives matching funds from the federal government based upon annual hunting, trapping and fishing licensing fees. It was for this reason that Director McDaniel tasked DNR attorneys with helping Frex draft a bill to reimburse disabled veterans in the form of a tax credit. 

“The idea was that we want to do something for veterans to encourage them to go out as much as they can – as often as they can – for therapy, in a way that won’t damage DNR’s bottom line,” Frex noted. “That was the reason and the rationale for the bill.”

At the conclusion of Frex’s remarks, Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said, “I’d like to speak in favor of the bill. In my opinion it’s a good piece of legislation.”

SB 447 was unanimously adopted by the committee, and will now advance to Senate Finance for their consideration. Next on the agenda was SB 493, which seeks to provide W.Va. veterans with no-cost day-passes to all State Parks. 

“To my understanding, there’s also a program for free visitors passes to State Parks and State Forests for disabled seniors,” Senate Minority Counsel Mindy Parsley explained. “This (SB 493) mirrors that language to allow the DNR to develop a plan similar to that.”

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said, “I think it’s (SB 493) wonderful.”

As with SB 447, SB 493 was unanimously adopted by the committee. 

The final piece of business before the committee was SB 527, which seeks to allow the family members of former military personnel to have access to their discharge records. 

As explained by Parsley, if enacted, the bill would allow, “A spouse, child, grandparent or siblings of persons discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces to receive or view free copies of those discharge certificates or reports of separation from active duty.”

On-hand to speak in favor of the bill was Mason County Clerk Diana Cromley, who told the committee, “County records are very public, and that’s what we (county clerks) are akin to – we are the keepers of public records.”

Fayette County Clerk Michelle Holly and Mason County Clerk Diana Cromley after the Feb. 6 meeting of the Senate Military Committee. Photo by Matthew Young.

“However, for a birth, death, marriage record – something of that sort – we do require identification,” Cromley noted. “Parent, child, sibling, spouse, grandchild, grandparent. I’m not certain, at this point, if that is in code or if it is a policy through the Bureau for Vital Statistics.” 

“We do as much do-diligence as we can to protect the identities of people,” Cromley said, before adding, “[To request discharge records] You have to be the veteran, or you have to die and your executor comes. I have a lot of people who want to get into the VFW, and they want it (records) but they can’t get it. So on behalf of (county) clerks, we don’t like going against the law, but sometimes we’ve had to because we know the people and we feel sympathetic. But there’s nothing in the code to allow us to grant it to a parent, child, sibling, spouse. That’s the reason that we wanted this bill.”

SB 527 was unanimously adopted unanimously, and will now be advanced to the full Senate with the Military Committee’s recommendation for passage. 


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