Politics & Government

Sedgwick County deeds office to issue veteran ID cards to combat ‘stolen valor’

Lots of businesses offer discounts to veterans. But how do you tell the real veterans from the fakers who just want a cheap pizza?

Sedgwick County Register of Deeds Tonya Buckingham thinks she has the answer.

On Wednesday, she got approval from the Sedgwick County Commission to start issuing veteran ID cards through her office.

The cards will be free to veterans and Buckingham will cover the costs from her existing budget.

She said she got the idea while researching the Cook County deeds office in Chicago.

“They were gracious enough to share how their program worked and I thought this would be really great in Sedgwick County,” Buckingham said.

Buckingham said she plans to gear up and start issuing the cards about two weeks from now.

Commission Chairman David Dennis, a retired career Air Force officer, hailed Buckingham’s effort.

“There’s a concern out there among veterans of stolen valor, of people that say: Hey, I served in Vietnam or I served here or there and they didn’t do any (thing) of the kind, but they want recognition,” Dennis said.

Dennis said he has a military ID to prove his status, but many veterans don’t.

Like commissioner Jim Howell.

“I only served for five years,” Howell said. “I don’t have a permanent ID like he (Dennis) does. I especially appreciate this. What a great thing for me to have.”

Howell also proposed that Sedgwick County sponsor state legislation next year to add the veteran card to the list of acceptable IDs to vote at polling places.

It was not immediately clear whether that will even be necessary.

The cards will have the veteran’s name and photo and be issued by a government office, the three qualifications in state law required for a legal ID to vote.

Katie Koupal, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said the office is aware of the county’s decision to issue the veteran card and will review the program just to ensure it is compliant with the voter ID law.

Although the deeds office is mostly concerned with property documents, the veteran card is a natural outgrowth of its record-keeping mission, Buckingham said.

Veterans can already register their military discharge form, called a DD-214, in the Register of Deeds office.

They keep a file and can issue certified copies if the veteran ever needs the form to prove service when applying for benefits, Buckingham said.

The first five copies are free, and the forms are kept confidential and not made available to anyone but the veteran or their designees.

Sedgwick will be the first Kansas county to issue a veteran ID card, although several others are expected to follow suit if it proves successful.

As she presented the program to the commission, Buckingham was accompanied by two leaders of the Veteran Providers’ Coalition of Sedgwick County — Howard Hutchison and Patty Gnefkow.

They said they’ll be using their network of contacts among veterans’ groups to spread the word about the new ID.

Gnefkow said they’ll also be signing up veterans for the new ID card at the Veterans Awareness Expo, Aug. 3 at the Mid-America All-Indian Center.

Also joining to support the program was James Bower, a disabled veteran who runs a website called www.veteranbargains.com, which tracks veterans discounts and promotions offered by Wichita-area businesses.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.