Military and Veterans Affairs
The United States currently has 1.4 million people serving in the armed forces, over 23 million veterans living in the U.S. and over 200 military installations in 46 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The military operations of the United States touch every state in some way.
While the majority of programs and benefits for soldiers and veterans are administered by the Federal Government, states and state legislatures are playing an increasingly larger role in military issues.
NCSL tracks a variety of military and veterans issues, including: the health and mental health of returning soldiers, education benefits for military personnel, spouses and dependent children, environmental and land use laws for lands adjacent to military installations and income and property taxation for servicemembers and veterans.
Mental Health and Reintegration Issues
Studies show that 26 percent or more of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from mental disorders that make it difficult for them to readjust to civilian life. Recognizing a need to help servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as veterans from other conflicts, state policymakers have stepped in to create programs and provide resources for returning servicemembers to reintegrate into their communities.
Since 2003, 35 states have introduced legislation addressing servicemembers’ return from active duty. The bills have focused on mental health, counseling, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), substance abuse treatment, and veterans courts. Legislation has been enacted or resolutions adopted in 24 states since 2005.
Trailing Spouse Benefits
Military families often face frequent moves and these moves can add unique financial pressures, as spouses may have to leave their employment due to a military transfer and the families may face a reduction in income. Generally speaking, when an individual leaves a job voluntarily, then the person is ineligible for unemployment benefits. Recognizing that spouses of military service personnel who quit their jobs due to a military transfer may not be quitting so “voluntarily,” state legislators have amended unemployment compensation laws to help military families who are relocating between states. In several states, state legislators deem it good cause if military spouses leave their employment to follow their spouses in a military relocation, and thus eligible for unemployment benefits.
Maintaining consistency in education can be difficult for the children of servicemembers. As a result of the frequent moves and assignment transfers, they face many educational challenges. Beginning in 2008, state legislatures began ratifying the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The compact seeks to bring consistency and coordination among the states by addressing issues regarding eligibility enrollment, placement and graduation requirements. To date, 35 states have ratified and joined the Compact. To see current legislation being considered on the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, visit the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Legislative Database.
Military Installation Sustainability
Although Department of Defense (DoD) facilities around the country are federally owned and operated, state legislatures can play an important role in sustaining them.
Military installations face changing missions as the Defense Department reorganizes its infrastructure to become more efficient and adjust to a changing national security environment. State and local governments appreciate the numerous benefits defense communities bring and therefore are often willing to share in the planning and investment needs to sustain them. As a military base and its surrounding community become more dependent upon one another for support during transitional periods (growth, realignment or closure), a durable partnership of open communication and cooperation is invaluable.
State Legislators serving in the military:
Currently, 65 state legislators serve in the U.S. military in reserve units or National Guard units. Of those 65 state legislators in the military, 31 have been deployed to another country while also serving in their respective statehouse.
Read more about this issue in these resources:
Military and Overseas Voting: