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Third Statewide Referendum Launches: Veterans Fighting More Inclusive Definition

The lesson this spring: don’t pass legislation that torques off folks in Aberdeen.

A group calling itself South Dakota Veterans for Veterans has filed the papers necessary to begin a petition drive to refer House Bill 1179 to a public vote. Here’s the header of their referendum petition:

Referendum petition, header, House Bill 1179
Referendum petition, header, House Bill 1179

…and here’s page 1 of the statement of organization of the ballot question committee supporting this referendum drive:

South Dakota Veterans for Veterans, statement of organization for ballot question committee, page 1, submitted 2015.04.23, approved 2015.04.27
South Dakota Veterans for Veterans, statement of organization for ballot question committee, page 1, submitted 2015.04.23, approved 2015.04.27

House Bill 1179, proposed by freshman District 8 Representative and Marine Corps veteran Mathew Wollmann, expands South Dakota’s legal definition of veteran for the purpose of determining eligibility for certain state benefits. Here is the bill’s full text (remember: overstrike marks language deleted from current statute; underline marks language added)

Section 1. That § 33A-2-1 be amended to read as follows:
33A-2-1. For the purposes of all statutes relating to rights, privileges, ceremonial recognition, exemptions, and benefits (except a state bonus) of veterans and their dependents, the term, veteran, means any person who:

  1. Has served on continuous federalized active military duty for a period of at least ninety days for reasons other than training the full obligation for active duty, reserve, or National Guard service in the military, or received an early discharge for a medical condition, hardship, reduction in force, or at the convenience of the military; and
  2. Has been separated or discharged from such service honorably or under honorable conditions.

For purposes of this section, the term, benefits, includes veterans designation on a driver license or identification card, veterans license plates, veterans job preference, and burial benefits pursuant to §§ 33A-5-2 and 33A-5-3. [House Bill 1179, signed by Governor Dennis Daugaard 2015.03.10]

HB 1179 drew some fire from South Dakota veterans, but the American Legion and the North Central Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America backed the bill. On a visit to Aberdeen last week, National American Legion Commander Mike Helm reiterated the Legion’s support for HB 1179:

In the eyes of the American Legion, a veteran is someone who steps forward to serve the United States, regardless of any active duty combat.

Mike Helm, national commander for the American Legion, stopped briefly in Aberdeen on Tuesday as part of a statewide tour of several American Legion posts.

In a brief talk to the 20 veterans in attendance, Helm said anyone who enlists and serves in the U.S. military has their life radically changed.

“It’s up to us to support that,” he said [Elisa Sand, “American Legion Head: Veteran Is Anyone Who Makes Commitment,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.22].

HB 1179 enjoyed mostly smooth sailing the Legislature: its final form drew only two nays in the Senate and two in the House.

One Aberdeen veteran I have spoken to says he’s not as bent out of shape about admitting contemporary National Guard members to veterans’ club in South Dakota.  He’s more concerned that HB 1179 opens the door for Vietnam-era Guardsmen who, unlike today’s Guards, enlisted in the Guard specifically to avoid the draft and the prospect of overseas deployment.

A fact sheet prepared by South Dakota Veterans for Veterans further argues that Rep. Wollmann’s bill entails costs to taxpayers that went unmentioned during the Legislature’s consideration of HB 1179:

We do not know what the cost will be yet because the legislature did not look into what the cost would be. We do know that there will be costs associated with the bill though since the state burial benefit was provided to the new veterans. Larry Zimmerman the SD Secretary of Veterans Affairs… went on record saying “This bill is not gonna cost your state anything.” Does Secretary Zimmerman really think that there will be no cost by making 25,000 eligible for benefits? [South Dakota Veterans for Veterans, information sheet, obtained by Dakota Free Press 2015.04.27]

Among the potential costs, South Dakota Veterans for Veterans cites the cost of supporting members of this new group of veterans who seek admission to the State Veterans’ Home. This year’s Senate Bill 34 changed the law to reduce eligibility requirements for admission to the Hot Springs facility to satisfaction of the state’s definition of veteran in SDCL 33A-2-1, the statute changed by HB 1179. South Dakota Veterans for Veterans contends the state will face more costs from admitting these new veterans.

Theodore Fowler, a Vietnam-era U.S. Army veteran and one of the organizers of this referendum drive, made news recently by participating in the April 9 protest against HB 1179 at a Northern State University event where Governor Daugaard was speaking. Governor Daugaard dodged Fowler and his fellow veterans. Fowler told the press at the time that he and several other veterans wanted to put HB 1179 to a vote. I visited with Fowler and explained the tight timeframe for referring legislation. Fowler and his veteran friends mobilized, and today Fowler announced that the Secretary of State has approved the HB 1179 petition and greenlighted circulation. Counting tonight, South Dakota Veterans for Veterans thus have 64 days to collect 13,871 signatures.

Fowler and friends are working to make up for lost circulation time. If you are interested in helping circulate this petition and put the definition of veteran to a public vote, call Fowler at 605-229-4757.


  1. Owen 2015-04-28 07:19

    I’ll comment on this tonight.

  2. Liberty Dick 2015-04-28 09:17

    This has potential to get messy and confusing. Unfortunately the vets will be fighting up hill on this one against a deep rooted public perception. I’ll give Ted a call and help him out.

  3. Lynn 2015-04-28 09:40

    Liberty Dick,

    Isn’t it crunch time for this? Will members of the American Legion and VFW’s help get these filled out in time?

  4. Nick Nemec 2015-04-28 10:03

    According to Cory’s story and link the American Legion supported this change.

  5. MOSES 2015-04-28 11:50

    So do nothing great name won’t even meet with vets.So a guy who never wore the uniform then ducks out.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28 12:17

    Yes, the American Legion did support HB 1179, creating an interesting tension in the veterans community. Lib D, Ted will welcome your perspective.

    Lynn, indeed, they’ve missed 26 days of circulating. On the plus side, the vets have built-in networks. If they want to get hold of people to sign, they can make up ground quickly with some focused calling and organizing.

  7. owen 2015-04-28 17:47

    I hope the vets that read this don’t feel I’m trying to pick a fight or even an argument. I have nothing but total respect for them.

    I’m posting this to explain my experience on this.

    I was in the Air National Guard from 1976 -1980. I was never called to active duty and never was in battle. Things were quiet during this time.

    When my wife and me moved to the town we live in now we knew nobody. So to try and meet people I tried to join the American Legion and found out that because of the period of time I was in the Guards I couldn’t join the Legion. Needless to say I was surprised. A couple of years ago I asked Stace Nelson about this and he said he’d check in to it for me. What he found out was that I can now join the Legion but can’t hold office. No I haven’t joined.

    When CitiBank came to Sioux Falls the post office expanded to meet the demand and I found I couldn’t claim veterans preference of any kind when I applied for a job and since then I’ve never been able to claim it. Over the years I might have got a job if I could have claimed veterans preference.

    I understand that since I was wasn’t active for 90 straight days I shouldn’t be able to claim full veterans status. But I did serve my country honorably and while I shouldn’t be able to receive benefits like someone who was full time I should be eligible for some reduced benefits.

    I probably won’t run to get new license plates and I’ll be buried in the town I live in, but its nice to know my time serving our country is now appreciated.

    I want to reiterate that I mean no disrespect to those who served full time and especially to those who saw combat.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28 21:18

    Owen reminds us why this referendum could be very emotional. Both sides have legitimate concerns and very emotional experiences. We get into quantifying service and sacrifice… which, I guess, any legal definition is going to do, but which gets more volatile when we are speaking with a citizen who says, “I served; why doesn’t my service count?”

    Other folks who’ve served in the military in some capacity or another, what do you say? Is HB 1179 a bad move? Should the public vote on this issue? Can we properly inform the public, with these emotional stories of service and post-service experience as well as the facts on budget impacts, to produce an educated decision on this topic?

  9. owen 2015-04-29 17:45

    I don’t think I’m too emotional on this. I’ve had to live with this since out got out of the guards. I haven’t lost sleep over it and I still won’t.
    However if some of these vets keep talking it might get emotional. A Vietnam vet name Tom Fowler was on the radio this morning and said if somebody joined the guards to get their loans paid back (or like me who got half of my tuition paid for) and then got out he shouldn’t be called a vet.
    Should I get full benefits? No. Should I receive some? Yes.
    I was lucky enough not to see combat as were people who joined when I did. We had no control over if there was a war or not but there could have been and we could have been called up to active duty. That’s the gamble we took and it proved to be a good gamble.
    What bothered me about Mr. Fowler was his attitude. He was treating me like I took advantage of the government. No I didn’t. The guard used the tuition payment as a carrot and I took it. I served my country just like Fowler-just not as long and through no fault of my own I saw no combat.
    Guys like Fowler had better get rid of the attitude.

  10. grudznick 2015-04-29 18:50

    Like owen says, ditch the attitude and quit whining. Some of us really have things to complain about and who else gets free soup doesn’t matter as long as I still get mine.

  11. Jon 2015-05-01 06:20

    This won’t affect the vets home. That portion of the bill had to be stricen due to the fact that it receives federal funding and per diem for housing 75% of it’s clients as Veterans based on what 38 CFR 3.6 and 7 defines that as. So don’t convolute that.

    WhT this will do eventually is confuse people on entitlement and put undue burden on County Veteran Service Officers and National and State reps. People won’t understand, no matter how many time it is explained, that just because the state says you are now a veteran for their purposes, the Federal Government does not. They will still try to file frivolous and fraudulent claims for benefits other than for injuries that were incured on drill weekends or wile on two week training. I have already seen it. Former SouthDakot Guardsmen filing for hearing loss in MN as artillerymen, even though they sorked construction their whole lives. When I called them their argument was, “Well SD says I’m a VETERAN.”

    The confusion is already apparent. Look let’s face reality. I as a SD guardsman said an oath to defend the Constitution, yes. I also know that in my dual role I am an emlpoyee of the Governor under Title 32 of the law and if I am needed will be a soldier as trained under Title 10 of the law with the President as my Commander and Chief. I did that an more than one occasion. I am proud of that! I know the difference! Even if i did 20 years in uniform in the guard, with no advanced NCOES schools and just did my obligatory time, my time in uniform with pay periods of 64 mutas a year equate to roughly 3.5 years total over a 20 year period. Not even the first term obligation of an active duty soldier. Think about that

  12. Jon 2015-05-01 07:06

    i apologize for the misspellings. Fat fingers and small tablets do not agree sometimes.

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