Lake Stevens forms group to focus on rights, needs of veterans

LAKE STEVENS — A new city commission aims to make Lake Stevens a more welcoming place for veterans and military families.

The City Council voted unanimously last month to create the Lake Stevens Veterans Commission. An ordinance was passed to write it into city code.

The group is meant to focus on outreach about veterans’ rights and needs, recognition of their contributions, and expansion of local opportunities for them. Projects could include connecting service organizations and employers with veterans.

More than 2,100 veterans live in Lake Stevens, according to U.S. Census population estimates for 2011 to 2015. That’s about 7 percent of the total population. It’s comparable to the countywide percentage of veterans, according to the census data.

Mike Schindler, of Edmonds, a U.S. Navy veteran and CEO of Operation Military Family, helped Lake Stevens plan its commission. Though many counties have formal veterans boards, it’s not as common in cities, and Lake Stevens is the first he knows of in Washington with such a group written into its code. He thinks it could be a model for others.

It’s important to make sure the group focuses on more than veterans’ needs, he said. While addressing employment issues, homelessness, addiction or suicide in the veteran community is valuable work, there’s more to the equation. Sometimes people forget that veterans are well-trained, service-oriented people who have a lot of offer, Schindler said.

“We’ve got hidden assets in our cities throughout the state, and they’re untapped,” he said. “Lake Stevens is tapping into that.”

The City Council expects to appoint a director or manager to work with the commission. The plan is to form an 11-person group, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. A call for volunteers should go out soon, according to a city news release.

“A member appointed to the commission should be knowledgeable in the area of veterans’ affairs, affiliated with a provider of services to veterans, or a veteran of the United States,” according to the rules that govern the new group. “The commission as a whole should represent a diversity of ethnicity, race and gender.”

At least eight members must be veterans, active service members or immediate family. At least seven members must live within the city. Others may live in the city’s urban growth area. The first team is expected to serve terms of one, two or three years.

A separate nonprofit might be established to raise funds and seek grants for veterans commission projects.

Among the group’s tasks is working to understand the needs of employers who want to hire veterans and the skills of veterans who are looking for work. It also would support organizations such as the Lake Stevens Family Center that connect veterans to services. The City Council plans to lean on the commission for advice on issues that directly affect veterans and military families.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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