MANATEE -- Imagine carrying a standard sheet of paper in place of a driver's license, keeping it all the time and hoping it isn't ruined by day-to-day life.
That's what 11 million Americans do to identify themselves as veterans, according to Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
If veterans served less than 20 years and do not suffer from a disability, they have to use a form DD-214 for ID, a scrap of paper containing highly personal information such as a Social Security number.
"In terms of identity theft, a lot of times they have to carry around their documentation, the DD-214, and many of them unfortunately misplace it or lose it or it's worn out, and they've got information like Social Security and other vital information," Buchanan said. "This will replace most of that if not all of it."
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The U.S. House of Representatives voted this week to fix the problem by allowing all veterans to receive an ID card from Veterans Affairs rather than having to carry the DD-214.
Buchanan, sponsor of the legislation, held a news conference Friday morning at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee rotunda, saying 70,000 veterans in the area would be affected by the legislation.
"A lot of veterans in this area want the ID card," Buchanan said. "We just passed it in the House, 402-to-0. That's a very bipartisan bill and that doesn't happen very often."
Veterans at the news conference said they used ID cards for health care, employment opportunities and service-related discounts. They said carrying the card makes those tasks much easier.
"We deal with homeless veterans and many others who walk around with the DD-214 literally in their back pocket, and when they open it up it's falling apart and it's shredding. You can only imagine," said Carl Hunsinger, legislative officer of the Manatee County Veterans' Council.
"So that's the problem. This gives them a sourced document that says: 'I am a veteran.'"
Veterans will pay for the cards to cover printing costs. Buchanan said they haven't priced the cards yet but it will be inexpensive.
The legislation is waiting for consideration by the Senate before heading to President Barack Obama's desk.
"It's inexpensive and it was a no-brainer. I'm surprised that it has taken this long to do something," Hunsinger said. "No wonder it was unanimously passed in the House of Representatives. And I would imagine the Senate would do the very same thing."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @Kateirby.