DES MOINES - Gov. Chet Culver signed two bills Tuesday meant to help veterans, among several veterans-related bills passed by state lawmakers this year.

One of the measures Culver signed into law, House File 2532, allows benefits paid for by the Veterans Trust Fund to be exempted from individual income taxes.

Those benefits include travel expenses for followup medical care and for unemployment assistance. The bill can be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2010.

Senate File 2175 would place a military veteran knowledgeable about behavioral and mental health issues on two panels that deal with mental health policy.

Culver put his signature on the bills at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

"I am proud to work for those who have served, returned to their homes and families and, in some cases, need our support," Culver said in a statement. "My hope is that this legislation will provide the support and appreciation they all deserve."

Democratic state lawmakers say Iowa is on track to be the first state to implement a list of initiatives to help out military families as recommended by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Sen. Steve Warnstadt, D-Sioux City, said the quality of life for military families is a major factor in the retention of quality service members.

As a member of the Iowa Army National Guard, Warnstadt helped guide key pieces of legislation affecting veterans this year.

He touted a bill passed this session that would make spouses of deployed or transferring service members eligible for unemployment benefits in some instances.

When spouses lose their jobs and have difficulty finding a new job because of a military relocation, it places a strain on the family, Warnstadt said.

"They need a second income to help pay the bills," Warnstadt said.

Warnstadt also praised a bill passed this year that would allow deploying service members with child visitation rights to designate another family member for visitation while they are deployed.

"It's just one more thing that can be done to maintain the communication between the parent and the child and give that deployed service member confidence about things going right at home and not have them be distracted while they're deployed," Warnstadt said.

Rep. Ray Zirkelbach, a Democrat from Monticello who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, believes a mental health parity provision for veterans passed this year would have the most impact.

The legislation requires coverage for substance abuse and mental health treatment for veterans in some cases.

Veterans are eligible for mental health services through Veterans Affairs, but Zirkelbach said it can be difficult for people in rural areas to access them.

HELP FOR VETERANS

Measures for veterans passed in the Iowa Legislature:

* Expand unemployment benefits to trailing military spouses who lose a job due to a military relocation.

* Require employers to provide Veterans Day off for any employee who is a veteran.

*  Require insurers to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment for veterans in some cases.

* Allows a parent with child visitation rights to apply to assign the visitation to another family member while the parent is on active duty.

- Charlotte Eby

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