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Driver's license honoring vets could diffuse tense situations

Published: Thursday, July 7 2011 4:22 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Jose Lopez's driver's license wasn't up for renewal, but there he was Wednesday, standing in line at the DMV.

Lopez, a U.S. Marine, opted to renew his license early to take advantage of a new law that allows for his status as a veteran to be printed on the card.

"It's a great idea," Lopez said. "I think every veteran should get it, regardless of whether they have another form of ID."

Under a new law that took effect July 1, those who've served in the military can have their veteran status printed on their drivers' licenses. It's a way to honor the vets and make sure they get the benefits they deserve.

Lopez fought in the initial assault of Iraq, and he doesn't believe veterans should have to fight to prove their status when they get home. He also said the new license is a lot simpler than carrying other forms of ID from the Department of Veterans Affairs or discharge papers to prove veteran status.

Fellow Marine Dennis Walker processed the license for Lopez. Walker said he's handled three veterans' licenses since the law went into effect last week.

"I think it's a great thing (that) we're able to recognize our vets," he said.

Veterans from all eras can use the new license to get discounts from retailers, and it could potentially save lives as well. That's one reason state VA officials pushed legislators to pass the law.

A handful of vets have gotten into confrontations with police in recent years. In many cases, post-traumatic stress disorder or other emotional battle scars played a role on those incidents.

"If it's a young guy especially, police might realize this guy might have just come home from Iraq or Afghanistan," Lopez said.

When a police officer approaches a car on a traffic stop, that veteran identifier can make a big difference, he said. When the officer has that information, he or she might be able to decrease the volatility of a potentially dangerous situation.

"He might not just be driving reckless or angry," Lopez said. "There might be some other issue. It gives them a chance to back away from the situation and handle it differently than they normally would."

In some confrontations, the license might not even come out. But when it does, law enforcement officers could use that information to potentially diffuse the tension.

"It would be very beneficial to the officer, so he can maybe have a little bit of background on what he's dealing with," said Todd Holbrook, a field office supervisor with the Utah Driver License Division and a veteran himself.

To obtain the new driver's license, veterans need to take their DD-214 papers for honorable discharge to state Department of Motor Vehicles locations and check the lines on the paperwork for veteran status.

Even if veterans recently renewed their license, they can apply for a duplicate for $18.

Statewide, there are about 150,000 veterans who would be eligible for the special license.

Contributing: Jared Page

E-mail: jboal@desnews.com

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