Swords to Plowshares would like to recognize Governor Brown and the state legislature on the passage and signing of a bill that would allow veterans to have a veteran designation on their California ID or driver license. This voluntary program will help veterans gain access to benefits they have earned, especially at the state level, and will also improve the overall veteran system of care.
Veterans who choose to get the veteran identifier on their license or ID will find it easier to access benefits with less paperwork. This is especially meaningful to veterans who find themselves without housing. Many veterans who live on the streets, in shelter, or who “couch surf” often report issues with maintaining paperwork without permanent housing. This ID can help many of these veterans lessen the amount of paperwork they need to have on them while still accessing the benefits they have earned.
The advantages of a veteran designation will extend beyond federal and state benefits to their interactions with police and other first responders as well. Swords to Plowshares has been providing cultural competency trainings to law enforcement personnel and other first responders to help them de-escalate situations with veterans in crisis while connecting them to resources to help the veteran. The Combat to Community training program helps officers identify, understand, and retain crucial tools to assist veterans in crisis. This education program covers issues like PTSD, TBI, addiction and domestic violence, showing how these issues can intensify and lead to interactions with law enforcement. The training also covers behaviors that may be typical of veterans who aren’t necessarily in crisis (e.g. battlefield driving) which can be maladaptive at home and which may potentially lead to law enforcement interactions. Standard interventions (e.g. loud commands, surrounding the veteran) in police training may escalate situations involving veterans, and we train the officers on how a veteran may perceive the situation so the officer may engage the veteran and de-escalate any potentially negative exchanges.
One of the biggest problems officers report is not being able to identify the person as a veteran and we spend a lot of training time on this. Having a veteran designation on a driver license will enable law enforcement to immediately use the tools we provide them without having to spend extra time screening the veteran when they first engage. While this veteran designation is an important piece of identifying veterans, it will be voluntary and there are still crucial veteran identifiers that police will need to know prior to looking at their license, and these tools will continue to be taught.