State Help for Returning Veterans

Jennifer Schultz 4/9/2018

soldier's hat, dog tags and American flagMany veterans have a difficult time making the transition back to civilian life. Finding a job, obtaining education benefits and housing can all be a challenge, especially for disabled veterans. As more and more veterans return home, states are focusing on programs to ensure that they receive the resources and information they need to make a smooth transition.

Currently, about 22 million veterans live in the United States, 2.8 million of whom served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans live in all 50 states and territories with the largest numbers in California, Florida and Texas. Alaska and Montana have the highest percentage of veterans per capita.

At least 14 states have created a commission or task force in the past 10 years to help returning veterans. The goal of many of these programs is to make it easier for veterans to access the array of benefits and services available to them— education, job training, housing, health care and more. Some programs focus on a particular issue, such as helping veterans find employment or ensuring that student veterans have access to appropriate resources and counseling.

The chart below contains citations and summaries of legislation creating a veteran transition assistance program. 

Veteran Transition Assistance Programs and Commissions (table)

State

Statute

Summary

California

2014 Cal. Stats., Chap. 647

(2014 AB 1509)

Requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a transition assistance program by July 1, 2015, for veterans discharged from the Armed Forces or National Guard. The program would provide California-specific information on education benefits, job training, small business resources, health care and mental health programs, housing, etc.

Georgia

Ga. Code §§38-4-90 – 38-4-92

Establishes the Returning Veterans Task Force to investigate how state services can be provided to veterans returning from military service within the past three years. The task force must issue recommendations to each relevant state agency to improve the delivery of services to returning veterans.

Illinois

Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 20, §2805/20

Creates the Illinois Discharged Servicemember Task Force to investigate the re-entry process for service members returning to civilian life from active duty. Topics include PTSD, homelessness, and disabilities, among others. In 2014, the task force must focus on issues facing women veterans (2013 HB 3346).

Kentucky

Ky. Rev. Stat. §40.350

Establishes the Kentucky Wounded or Disabled Veterans program to ease the transition from active service for wounded or disabled veterans and ensure that they receive the federal, state and private benefits to which they are entitled. Primary components of the program are advocacy, collaboration, research, education and recognition.

Maine 2014 Me. Laws, Chap. 48 Creates a commission to strengthen and align the services provided to veterans. The commission will identify gaps and inefficiencies related to health care, housing, education, etc. Members will also explore ways to improve communication with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  
Maine 2016 HB 1100 Provides a marketing and outreach program to increase awareness of services and benefits available to veterans and their family members and to encourage veterans to seek the benefits and services to which they are entitled.
Maryland 2016 HB 1458 / SB 606 Maryland College Collaboration for Student Veterans Commission: directs the Commission to work to ensure the educational success of returning veterans, including their recruitment, successful transition into higher education, retention, and eventual graduation and to work with institutions of higher education to provide certain services, including communication and coordination of available veteran services, behavioral health services and financial aid and GI bill support services.

Massachusetts

2014 Mass. Acts, Chap. 62

(2014 SB 2052)

Establishes the Massachusetts Servicemember Post-Deployment Council to make recommendations regarding the implementation of a program to support service members transitioning to civilian life after deployment. A program plan and recommendations for legislation must be submitted in September 2015.

North Carolina

2014 Exec. Order 49

Creates the Governor’s Working Group on Veterans, Service Members and Their Families to develop interagency solutions to make North Carolina a more veteran-friendly state. The working group will address transition, integration, and social support issues.

North Dakota 2015 Exec. Order 1 Establishes the North Dakota Cares, a coalition charged with improving collaboration and coordination on behavioral health services for veterans. 

Oregon

Or. Rev. Stat. §§408.503 – 408.507

Requires state agencies to partner with the state Military Department to provide reintegration services for veterans through regional strategies; Requires the Military Department to make contact information for the reintegration team available to establishments operated to provide food to veterans.

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws §§30-17.1-10 – 30-17.1-12

Creates a Veterans Services Strategic Plan Advisory Committee to maintain a five-year statewide plan addressing access to benefits, education, employment, veteran-owned small businesses, health care, homelessness, etc.

2013 R.I. Pub. Laws, Chap. 152 (2013 SB 583)

Requests formation of a state Veterans’ Transition Team composed of community and state agencies involved in veterans services, to better coordinate, leverage, and ultimately improve services to ease both short and long-term transitions for veterans, focusing particularly on improving access to employment, health care, education, housing, and job training.

Tennessee Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-1302 Establishes statewide support to aid Veterans in transitioning from military service to enrollment at public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education. This support should encourage enrollment of veterans and address issues that may deter veterans' participation in higher education, such as affordability, lack of awareness by faculty and staff of military and veterans' culture, the need for orientation and mentoring programs designed specifically for veterans and facilitation of credential completion by veterans as quickly as possible.

Utah

2014 Utah Laws, Chap. 150

(2014 HB 313)

Creates a legislative commission to address veterans’ and military affairs issues. Requires the commission to study and make recommendations to the legislature on reintegration from military to civilian status, among other things.

Virginia

2014 Va. Acts, Chap. 815

(2014 HB 1009)

Allows the Board of Workforce Development to establish a military transition assistance committee to focus on reducing process and qualification barriers to training and employment services.

 

Below are additional policy options state legislatures have considered in recent years to address the needs of returning veterans and their families. Topics covered include employment, education, access to benefits, housing and mental health.

Employment

Occupational Licensing
State legislatures have enacted a number of provisions to help returning veterans reintegrate into the civilian workforce over the past several years. This is a trend that follows reports of high unemployment among post-9/11 veterans. Veterans often experience long delays in obtaining civilian employment even when they have transferable skills gained through military education, training and experience.
 
Since 2010, all 50 states and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation assisting active duty service members and veterans in transferring and obtaining occupational licenses and certifications. Some laws apply only to specific professions while others are broader. Many states are now expanding on existing legislation to cover more professions and to address any barriers that may impede licensure. In addition, 49 states have enacted legislation to streamline the process for military spouses transferring a license or certification between states.
 

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Alaska (HB 46 – 2013): Waives the commercial motor vehicle driving skills test for certain drivers with military commercial motor vehicle experience.
  • Delaware (HB 296 – 2014): Allows professional licensing boards to recognize military education, training and experience when reviewing credentials and issuing licenses and aims to assist service personnel and their spouses in obtaining and renewing professional licenses when transitioning from active duty. The law also allows boards to issue temporary licenses based upon licensing in another state.
  • Michigan (HB 4605 – 2013): Authorizes the use of military experience as the basis for licensure as a medical first responder, emergency medical technician, emergency medical technician specialist, paramedic or emergency medical services instructor-coordinator. 
  • North Carolina (SB 545 – 2015): Creates an occupational licensing board that issues licenses, certifications, or registrations to military‑trained applicants, allowing them to lawfully practice their occupation in the State if the applicant has been awarded a military occupational specialty equivalent to or exceeding the requirements for licensure.
  • Texas (SB 807 – 2015): Waives occupational licensing application and examination fees for military service members, veterans and spouses whose military service, training or education substantially meets all of the requirements for the license or who holds a current license issues by another state.
     
Employer Grants and Tax Credits

At least 19 states—Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin—provide grants or tax credits to encourage private employers to hire returning veterans. Employers can typically claim the tax credit for the first and second taxable year in which they employ one or more qualified veterans. Credits range from $1,000 to $5,000 for each veteran hired.

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Alabama (HB 152 – 2012): The Heroes for Hire Act provides a $1,000 tax credit to employers who hire unemployed veterans who recently returned from active duty. It provides a $2,000 tax credit to recently discharged veterans who start their own business
  • Delaware (HB 275 – 2012): Provides an employer tax credit up to $1,500 to spur the hiring of veterans who have served in overseas conflicts since 2001.
  • Vermont (HB 275 – 2011): Provides a $2,000 tax credit to employers who hire recently discharged veterans

Providing grants to businesses also encourages the hiring of veterans and helps to defray the costs associated with retraining:

  • Arkansas (SB 500 – 2015): Appropriates $300,000 for job counseling and workforce readiness training to veterans and other employment challenged persons.
  • Connecticut (SB 927 – 2013): Provides grants to businesses to subsidize part of the cost of on-the-job training and compensation for newly hired veterans.
  • Missouri (HB 1680 – 2012): The Show-Me-Heroes program offers on-the-job training for returning National Guard members, reservists and recent active duty service members. Employers are reimbursed for half of the participant's wages during the training period.
  • Wisconsin (SB 419/AB 541 – 2016): Creates a veterans employment and entrepreneurship grant program; allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide up to $500,000 annually in grants to improve the employment outcomes for veterans in the state, assist veteran entrepreneurs, give employers incentives to hire veterans, and fund job training - especially for disabled veterans.
Hiring Preference
While all states grant some form of employment preference to veterans in the public sector, private employers had been hesitant to favor veterans because of provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit discrimination in hiring. An exception to the law, however, allows veterans preference if authorized under federal, state or local law. 
 
Since 2011, 37 states (including 33 states in the past three years) have enacted legislation allowing private employers to give hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Many of these laws also apply to spouses of disabled veterans and surviving spouses.
 
Job Placement Services

These programs facilitate the exchange of information between the state and employers with the goal of connecting returning veterans with businesses looking to hire. They may also help veterans prepare a resume and complete applications for employment.

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Arkansas (HB 1575 – 2013): Requires the Department of Workforce Services to maintain a registry of private employers and local government employers in Arkansas that have a voluntary veterans' preference employment policy.
  • Colorado (HB 1030 – 2015): Establishes a pilot program to provide job retention services, mediation services, mentoring skills and guidance to veterans seeking civilian employment. 
  • Florida (HB 7015 – 2014): Creates the Veterans Employment and Training Services program to link veterans with businesses seeking to hire dedicated, well-trained workers. It directs program staff to offer skills assessments to veterans, share information on other state services and assist them in preparing applications for employment.
  • Virginia (HB 971 – 2014): Requires the adjutant general to establish a program under which the Department of Military Affairs can share information with the Employment Commission on members of the National Guard undergoing discharge, separation or release.
Discrimination in Hiring

Many returning veterans face a subtle form of discrimination as they search for employment. Employers may wrongfully assume that a member of the National Guard or Reserves may be called to active duty shortly after beginning work. For other employers, fears regarding post-traumatic stress disorder are the primary concern. In 2014, legislators in Indiana (HB 1242) and Louisiana (SB 412) enacted legislation making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a prospective employee based on the individual's status as a veteran or member of the National Guard or Reserves.

Education

Academic Credit for Military Service

Policymakers are increasingly encouraging institutions to allow veterans to apply their hours of military training and experience towards degrees and credentials. The American Council on Education has helped institutions reward veterans for their previous training and experience by compiling recommendations and a career guide for every sector of the military. At least 31 states—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin—have passed legislation to recognize the varied skills and knowledge veterans acquire by counting it toward college credit. Some states require the board of regents for every institution to adopt policies for applying military training or service towards academic credit, while other states require commissions or boards to set guidelines for institutions to adopt.

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Louisiana (SB 132 – 2015): Provides for the reverse transfer of four-year postsecondary academic credits to a community college. Provides for the award of academic and workforce education credits earned by veterans and their spouses.  
  • Michigan (HB 4060 – 2015): Ensures that public universities inform applicants that have served as members of the military, the National Guard, or the military reserves that he or she may receive academic credit for college-level training and education he or she received while serving in the military.
  • Missouri (SB 106 – 2013): Requires every public institution of postsecondary education in the state to award educational credits to a student who is also a veteran, for courses that are part of the student’s military training or service. Rhode Island (SB 6138/HB 5711 – 2013): Requires state institutions of higher education to adopt a policy to award educational credits to veterans that meet the standards of the American Council on Education or equivalent standards for awarding academic credit, if the award of the educational credit is based upon the institution's admission standards and its role, scope and mission.
  • Texas (SB 1736 – 2011): Creates the College Credit for Heroes program to maximize academic and workforce education credits to veterans and military service members for military experience, education and training obtained during military service in order to expedite the entry of veterans and military service members into the workforce
Campus Services

Veteran students may also have trouble making the transition from military life to campus life for a variety of reasons. States can help by providing services specifically for veterans on campus, such as tailored orientation, resource centers and mentors, and faculty who are sensitive to military culture..

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  •  Arizona (SB 1373 – 2011): Recognizes campuses that are supportive of veterans on the state higher education website. To be recognized as a veteran supportive campus, the institution must offer a number of services, including sensitivity and awareness training on military culture, student veteran orientation programs, peer mentoring, and resource centers especially for student veterans.
  • Louisiana (HB 485 – 2015): Establishes a process for designating an institution as a Governor's Military and Veteran Friendly Campus.
  • New Jersey (AB 3360 – 2009): Creates the Troops to College Program to assist the state’s colleges and universities in coordinating the array of services available to student veterans, including assistance applying for financial aid, counseling and online resources.
  • Oregon (HB 2178 – 2009): Requires the appointment of veterans’ service officers to every community college and institution in the public university system.
  • Texas (SB 1158 – 2013): Requires the Texas Veterans Commission to employ veteran’s education counselors to work with colleges and universities to create a supportive environment for veterans and enhance awareness of veteran’s education programs.

Access to Benefits

Outreach/Awareness of Benefits

Veterans are not always aware of the many benefits and services to which they are entitled. As more and more veterans return home, states are looking to increase outreach and awareness of state and federal benefits.

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Indiana (SB 354 – 2014): Establishes the Hoosier Women Veterans Program to perform outreach to improve women veterans’ awareness of eligibility for veterans’ services and benefits, and review and make recommendations to improve services for women veterans.
  • Maine (HB 68 – 2015): Relates to streamlining the criteria for delivery and administration of state-established services and benefits to veterans.
  • Michigan (SB 52 – 2015): Provides for welcome home letters for returning veterans which include a list of all state-funded veteran’s service organizations.
  • Nevada (Exec. Order 13 – 2014): Creates the Governor's Veteran Resource and Service Directory Program to provide a single location for veterans to access and understand the services, benefits, resources and opportunities that are available from local, state, federal, community, nonprofit groups and others.
  • Rhode Island (HB 6250 – 2013): Requires the Division of Veterans Affairs to produce a “Pocket Guide of Veterans' Services” that will serve as a compendium of benefits and services available to veterans in the state.
  • Utah (HB 219 – 2014): Provides uniform military discharge language for the purpose of qualifying for certain benefits. 

Veteran Designation on Driver's Licenses

A total of 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico allow an individual to indicate his or her status as a veteran on a driver’s license or identification card. The veteran designation not only makes it easier for veterans to take advantage of special discounts and incentives, but also helps first responders and benefits specialists to identify and direct veterans to the resources and services they have earned.

Housing

In addition to assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a number of states provide low-interest home loans for veterans and their families.

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Mississippi: Veterans’ Home Purchase Board, created in 1946, provides low-interest mortgage loans in amounts up to $225,000 for eligible veterans and unmarried surviving spouses to purchase an existing home or to construct a new home.
  • Montana (SB 326 – 2011): Creates the Veterans’ Home Loan Mortgage program to fund loans for first-time veteran home buyers. The money is allocated from the permanent coal tax trust fund.
  • Oklahoma (SB 366 – 2015): Creates a grant program to assist disabled veterans in remodeling or purchasing a home suitable for their disability. Maximum of $5,000 per veteran.
  • Texas: Veterans Housing Assistance program has been providing veterans with low-interest home loans since 1983. Veterans may receive up to $417,000 for a home purchase with a fixed interest rate for 15, 20, 25 or 30-year terms.

Mental Health

As more information on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) come to light, states are focused on providing veterans and their families with the care and resources needed to cope with these and other mental health issues.

Examples of Enacted Legislation:

  • Indiana (SB 180 – 2014): Requires the state department of health to study the implementation of a program for the treatment of veterans who have traumatic brain injury or posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Michigan (SB 299 – 2015): Relates to service animals. Includes within the definition of "person with a disability" veterans with PTSD and TBI.
  • New Hampshire (SB 298 – 2014): Establishes a permanent commission to study the effects of service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and make recommendations for legislation.
  • Texas (SB 55 – 2015): Creates a grant program to support community mental health programs for veterans with mental illness and their families. 
  • West Virginia (HB 4318 – 2014): Requires licensing boards for certain health professions to establish continuing education requirements related to mental health conditions common to veterans and family members of veterans. Note: Washington enacted similar legislation in 2014 (HB 1376).

Other

The following legislation represents additional state strategies to respond to the needs of returning veterans:

  • Colorado (HB 1205 – 2014): Creates the Veterans Assistance Grant program to provide money to nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies that provide certain services to veterans, including job training, family counseling, mental health, employment, and housing services.
  • Texas (SB 1536 – 2013): Requires the state military forces to develop a program to provide referrals to service members for reintegration services; focuses on early intervention to promote the health of returning service members and their families, working with both community and faith-based providers.
  • Utah (SB 96 – 2014): Creates a registry process at the state Department of Veterans' and Military Affairs that provides contact information to donors of materials and labor for veterans and their dependents.