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Enabling courts a chance to give veterans proper treatment

POSTED: March 17, 2014 7:21 p.m.

As many of you are aware, I served in the Marine Corps and was in Vietnam from April 1966 until May 1967. Including my Marine and Coast Guard active and reserve service, I was in the military for almost 30 years prior to retiring.

When I was elected to the House, I asked for and received a committee assignment on the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee. I have an abiding respect for veterans who have served under the flag of our great nation. Old Glory is the symbol of our hard-fought freedom and I believe it should be flown with respect for our forefathers, the veterans and current service men and women who protect our freedom, and as a reminder of what we stand for as a nation.

Last week, the House passed HR 1585, a resolution encouraging local governments to display the flag outside of government buildings. The resolution also encourages the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, teaching children the importance of our heritage and allegiance for the values for which our country was founded.

I love our nation and do not take for granted that as a democracy, we have profound privileges as well as incredible responsibilities. I am proud to support this resolution and the wonderful symbol of our great nation.

Speaking of veterans and their dedication to our nation, the General Assembly recognizes that veterans have provided an invaluable service to our country and the state. Fellow Georgians must remember that in connection with a veteran’s service, some servicemen and servicewomen have incurred physical, emotional, or mental impairments which may contribute to behaviors that may draw a veteran into the criminal justice system.

Under SB 320, the General Assembly has determined that having dedicated veterans court divisions are important to address the specialized treatment needs of veterans so that there are resources and treatment options unique to veterans that may best facilitate a veteran’s reentry into society. Any court that has jurisdiction over criminal cases may establish a veterans court division to provide an alternative to the traditional judicial system for disposition of cases in which the defendant is a veteran.

Our veterans have risked their lives to uphold our protection and our freedom. The adjustment to civilian life is often a challenging one for many of the men and women who have served valiantly. I will always support our veterans and be grateful for their commitment to our nation. With this in mind, I believe this is sound legislation.

Two bills passed on the House floor last week will help ensure that the state of Georgia is prepared to deal with an ever-growing health concern among our aging population: Alzheimer’s disease. Currently more than 120,000 Georgians live with Alzheimer’s disease, but that number is expected to rise to 160,000 by 2025.

SR 746 addresses the growing illness by supporting the State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. Developed by a multidisciplinary group of state leaders, the plan aims to improve dementia prevention and treatment.  It also increases community services, family support, and public awareness for the disease. Alzheimer’s disease not only takes a toll on those who suffer from the illness, but also those around them; I hope that through SR 746, the state will embrace this plan to improve life for all those who have been affected by this horrible disease.

We passed another measure this week to improve the state’s elder care planning and future public policy for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. SB 292 would primarily serve to establish the Alzheimer’s Disease Registry, which will serve as a central database of all individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The confidential database is expected to provide researchers, doctors, and caregivers with a better understanding of the disease, its risk factors and its victims.

The database will also provide us with a more accurate estimate of the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s and the areas of the state with the most patients. This will allow us to pool our medical resources to better serve these areas with the most patients. Gaining a better understanding of the disease is the first step toward finding treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure.

Regarding the environment, the General Assembly finds that the use of water resources for the state for agricultural purposes is of vital importance to Georgia. Last week, SB 313 passed, ensuring that water from the Flint River and its tributaries is allocated properly in periods of drought. The Flint River is more than 300 miles long and drains more than 8,000 square miles of west Georgia. I supported this legislation which ensures the wise use of water resources and the economic well-being of the state.

The protection of Georgians was taken into consideration as SB 382 passed the General Assemblymaking it unlawful for a person to give a false name or address with the purpose of obtaining a refund from a business for merchandise. This legislation also makes it unlawful for a person to obtain a refund using another person’s driver’s license or identification card. In this technological age where identity theft is a real problem, this legislation protects citizens as well as businesses.

As the final days of this legislative session approach, please contact me if I can be of assistance to you. I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or by email at bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov.  My mailing address at the State Capitol is 501 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334.

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