Pilar Schiavo | Honoring Our Veterans — and Serving Them

Pilar Schiavo, Democratic Voices

Yesterday, we honored those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe. My family is so fortunate that my dad and brother returned home safely. We still have family holidays and birthday celebrations, but for too many families that’s not the case. 

As the chair of the Assembly Military and Veteran Affairs Committee, it is also my responsibility to guard the interests of veterans in California, those who returned to us, though not necessarily in full health, so I want to take some time to report on  the work we are doing in the Legislature to support California veterans. 

Having fought for our country, veterans deserve legislative champions who will fight for them, listen to them, and take their needs and priorities as seriously as they have taken their duty to their country.  

It has been a priority for me to take on taxation of military pensions and reform of the veterans’ property tax exemption. California is the last state in the union to provide no relief on the taxation of military retirees’ pensions. We have pushed this issue further forward than it has ever gone before, and will return next year with a renewed effort.

The California Constitution provides property tax exemptions to homeowners, generally, but also to veteran homeowners, but the veterans’ exemption is hopelessly out-of-date, and even then is less than the exemption available to all homeowners. I have been working with my Senate counterpart, Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, to amend the state Constitution to make the veterans’ property tax exemption worthwhile. It will require voters’ approval, but I am confident it would pass. 

The bond act approved by voters in March included about $1 billion to build housing for veterans and their families at risk of homelessness. Since 2014, we’ve built thousands of units for veterans at risk of homelessness, and while homelessness overall has been on the rise, we have reduced homelessness among veterans by a substantial amount, and this allows us to build on that success.

We are also implementing the California Veterans Health Initiative, a grant-funded pilot program to increase access to mental health services for veterans and their families. 

Last week was also the deadline for bills to move from the Assembly to the Senate, and there are three bills that are on their way to the Senate in support of our veterans and military personnel:

Increasing Transparency at CalVet (Assembly Bill 1908)

This bill will improve government transparency and performance by requiring the California Department of Veterans Affairs to report to the Legislature annually with a summary of the major findings of its internal audits, restoring a requirement that existed before the department’s inspector general was eliminated in 2004.

Reservist Financial Support (AB 1854)

This legislation gives more time for reservists to apply for deferment of payment and interest on certain debts, such as credit cards, vehicle loans, mortgages and more. These are protections already extended to reservists under state law, but members of the Guard and Reserve are often called to active duty on very short notice, and sometimes don’t learn of the protections the law provides until it is too late to take advantage of them.  

Deputy Secretary of Minority and Underrepresented Veteran Affairs (AB 1994)

This bill would make permanent the recently created position of deputy secretary of minority and underrepresented veterans affairs, to ensure that those veterans who are already battling uphill for adequate representation have an advocate at the highest levels within CalVet. 

In our first year in the Assembly, we also brought a dedicated veteran services officer to Santa Clarita, something veterans in our community have been asking to have for years. After touring the SCV Veterans Center in 2022, I met with Jeff Stabile, a local veteran leader, about what veterans in our community needed. That’s when he told me about the need for a VSO locally, which is why we immediately got to work and delivered this important resource within just one week. 

A VSO is necessary for veterans to process paperwork in order to receive VA benefits, among other services they provide, and Santa Clarita had been without a dedicated one for a long time. Now, veterans in the area don’t have to travel outside of the area for this necessity.  

As we honor those who lost their lives in service of our country, let’s also stay committed to fighting for the resources our veterans and military families need to thrive.

Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, represents the 40th Assembly District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley in addition to the northwest San Fernando Valley. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.

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