States consider adding military service to driver's licenses

By BRIAN SHANE | USA Today | Published: March 1, 2012

State lawmakers across the U.S. are crafting legislation that would add military service to veterans' driver's licenses so they will not have to carry official discharge papers to prove their service.

It's a shortcut that legislators say could come in handy, from securing state veterans' claims, to simply getting a military discount at a hotel or retailer.

"The time that they have invested in us is priceless, for us and for our freedom," said Maryland state Sen. Jim Mathias, who is sponsoring such a bill in the Maryland General Assembly. "And this, respectfully, is the least that we can do to say thank you."

More and more military servicemembers are returning home from overseas, and they need a more efficient way to prove eligibility for benefits that doesn't involve lugging around discharge papers, according to Jerry Boden, chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.

"You wouldn't have to fumble through and pull out a piece of paper," said David Mills, 41, of Salisbury, Md., a former U.S. Marine infantryman and Desert Storm veteran. "Going for a discount, or just showing that you have served in the military, it's an asset. It's like being a donor on the back of your driver's license. If it's there, it's great."

Mills said he is concerned that there are people who might create fake IDs, may add the designation and fake their military service.

William "Sarge" Garlitz, 69, commander of American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City, Md., said the measure is "past due."

"It should have been done years ago," said Garlitz, a retired Air Force master sergeant who served during the Vietnam War.

A dozen states passed laws in 2011 adding a veterans designation to driver's licenses, according to Boden: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

States pursuing legislation this year include Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey and South Carolina, Boden said.

It's much easier for a veteran to take advantage of the discounts or preferences offered by national chains such as Home Depot or Jiffy Lube by simply handing over an official state ID, Boden said.

A more serious reason, he added, is that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have been known to scuffle with law enforcement after they return home. If police at the scene realize they're dealing with a veteran, one who may have PTSD, it could help them better handle the situation, Boden said.

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