By Jim Reed
State lawmakers learned about a wide range of state policy options when it comes to helping military veterans and strengthening the military aspect of their state’s economy.
Military-related employment and spending account for a significant portion of the state of Washington’s overall economy, including $13 billion in economic activity and 56,000 jobs.
In recognition, the state Commerce Department houses an office of Economic Development for the Military and Defense Sector which both tracks the economic impact of the military presence and acts to preserve and grow the footprint of military businesses. Key to the effort is community planning and partnering with the military, which helps preserve the mission at installations, thereby also preserving the positive economic impact.
Thirty-six states have efforts underway in this area, including actual state appropriations to build key infrastructure adjacent to bases.
Services to help veterans was the focus of four sessions during the recent Legislative Summit in Nashville, Tenn.
Veteran’s courts, modeled after drug courts, are increasingly being established by all levels of government and focusing on the recovery of veterans from whatever underlying condition that caused their interactions with the legal system.
A model law has been developed by the Uniform Law Commission to assist in establishing such courts. The courts are run by judges and staff who are veterans and the approach is non-adversarial, with an emphasis on the integration of services and treatments, ongoing judicial oversight and partnering with key agencies for the benefit of the veterans who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, often related in some way to the impact of their military service.
Significant efforts are underway in the states to make working less difficult for military spouses. Military spouses often have trouble practicing their professions due to the need to requalify in their new locations, which happens often due to frequent moving inherent in their spouses’ military career. The majority of states now have avenues of expeditated licensing, instant reciprocity and other methods across a variety of professions, so spouses don’t lose time from work as they move from place to place.
How lawmakers can help in the prevention of suicides by veterans was the topic of a well-attended session which gave perspectives from state, federal and the nonprofit arts. Suicides across all U.S. populations are on the rise since 1999, with nine states experiencing an increase of between 38% and 58% in that time frame. Along with efforts by the federal government, states are training professionals to assess suicide risk, increasing funding to specific programs, and better-supporting servicemembers transitioning to civilian life.
A final session addressed the issue of national service. The congressionally mandated National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is studying the expectation of public service in either government, the military or in a nonprofit setting. The commission is exploring the many ways in which the nation can foster a culture of service while strengthening communities, civil society and a sense of citizenship. Read the interim report. A final report is due in March 2020.
NCSL constituents also heard from retired Gen. Carl Schneider who shared stories about his life of military and public service, including many from his book, "Jet Pioneer: A Fighter Pilot’s Memoir."
Read the presentations from these five sessions.
Jim Reed staffs the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force.