AP NEWS

South Carolina leaders aim to elevate agency for veterans

February 19, 2019
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at a news conference in Columbia, S.C., Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in support of legislation that will elevate the state Division of Veterans Affairs into a cabinet level position. The bipartisan supported legislation garnered support from military personnel including the current director of the agency. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster and members of the General Assembly are supporting legislation to elevate the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to a Cabinet-level position.

A bipartisan group of legislators and veterans from various branches of the military held a news conference Tuesday at the Statehouse in support of legislation to create the Division of Veterans’ Affairs within the executive branch of government.

The agency is currently under the Department of Administration. If passed, the bill will allow the governor to appoint a director with the approval of the General Assembly. McMaster said lawmakers have been working on legislation for nine years, and it is time for it to pass.

“It’s taken us a long time to get here,” McMaster said. “It’s important that our veterans, through a Cabinet agency, have the status, attention and focus that is important to keep in South Carolina.”

Howard Metcalf, current director of the Division of Veterans’ Affairs, thanked the governor and lawmakers for their efforts and said it was time for them to put their actions into words to serve the more than 400,000 military veterans in the state.

“Let’s stop saying we are one of the friendliest states for veterans and let’s make it a reality,” Metcalf said. “This is the right thing to do for veterans, the ones who have sacrificed their life. Those who have died on the battlefield.”

Rep. Bobby Cox is a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill and is a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. Cox said the change shows service members that South Carolina cares about their veterans.

“We call ourselves a very veteran friendly state, but you’ve got to have your actions reflect your words,” the Greer lawmaker said.

Chairman of the Senate Family and Veterans’ Services committee Katrina Shealy said allowing members of the General Assembly and governor the power to step in and intercede on behalf of the agency will ensure veterans will receive the budgetary needs and quality care that they deserve.

The Lexington lawmaker said there is room for improvement within the agency, and passing the legislation is a step toward that.

Unlike issues such as gun violence, prison reform, and education, Sen. Shealy said addressing the concerns of veterans is a unifying issue among lawmakers.

“This is something we can agree on,” Shealy said.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill are in committee.