CHEYENNE — A state legislative committee is considering limiting eligibility requirements for family members who purchase specialty license plates honoring fallen soldiers.
Larry Barttelbort is the director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission. He said lawmakers “may have opened the door too wide” a couple of years ago when they expanded the Gold Star license plate program to include siblings and children of members of the armed forces who died while in service or who died as a result of the service.
The law currently allows the plates for parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings and children. It also allows, for example, Gold Star plates for the family of a World War II veteran who was ill during his military service and died in the 1990s.
The Wyoming Veterans Commission is recommending that family members be eligible only if the service member died while in service. Some Gold Star members in the state agree.
The Legislature’s Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs agreed this week to consider changing the law at its next meeting.
It is a difficult issue and a policy question, Barttelbort said, because “everybody wants to be under that umbrella.”
Barttelbort said fewer than five family members who received Gold Star license plates would not have qualified under the proposed change.
Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, is a committee co-chairman. He argued there are many Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and later succumbed to cancer. Their families would not qualify for the plates if the language in the law is changed.
The national Gold Star award program began after World War I and initially was given only to mothers of soldiers who died, Barttelbort said. The Charter of Gold Mothers was established in 1936.
The Gold Star award was expanded during World War II to include spouses of soldiers who died.
The emphasis on mothers and widows continued through the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Additional family members were added to the list during Desert Storm, the 1990-1991 war against Iraq.
The expansion continued after Sept. 11, 2011, with the establishment of the National Gold Star Family Registry, according to a Wyoming Veterans Commission report.
As of May 28, the state of Wyoming had issued 119 Gold Star license plates paid for by the Wyoming Veterans Commission.
The state offers a dozen military license plates, many with different eligibility standards.
Rep. David Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, is the other committee co-chairman. He said he would like to see if some of the designations could be combined, not eliminated.
The largest of number of plates, 3,007, have the armed forces designation followed by 2,500 for disabled veterans, 798 for Army National Guard members, 387 for Air National Guard members, 539 for Purple Heart honorees, 44 for former prisoners of war and 25 for Pearl Harbor veterans.
Beginning July 1, honorably discharged veterans can get a red “V” added to their driver’s license at no additional fee.