The federal government largely makes the policy affecting military and veterans affairs, but state governments pay for and manage a variety of programs that represent substantial investments in veterans, active-duty members and military families.
State programs address employment, mental health care, education and housing, among other services. States help connect veterans to federal resources and oversee the National Guard, and most states also maintain and fund state veterans cemeteries and veterans homes.
Here are the military and veterans issues states will focus on in 2024.
NCSL Forecast ’24
This special report from State Legislatures News covers the topics NCSL’s policy experts anticipate will occupy state lawmakers’ time in 2024 legislative sessions. Read the full report here.
Hot Topic: Expanding Occupational Licensing
State legislatures will continue to expand pathways to employment for veterans by reducing complicated occupational licensing requirements. Approaches include employment preferences for veterans, temporary occupational licenses for military spouses, license reciprocity, expedited licensing, membership in licensure compacts, and support for veteran-owned small businesses.
ACTION: Expect to see growth in programs to expand apprenticeships, internships and skills training to help veterans enter the workforce. NCSL anticipates more bills like one enacted recently in Hawaii to grant temporary licenses for 25 occupations to spouses accompanying an active-duty service member to a permanent change of station at a military installation.
Hot Topic: Preventing Suicides
The Department of Veterans Affairs cataloged 6,146 veteran suicide deaths in 2020, down 343 from in 2019. Though the decline is hopeful, these unacceptably high numbers are part of an ongoing and vexing public health problem in the United States. Though the federal government handles most mental health needs for veterans through the VA, states have acted for many years to address and prevent veteran suicides, and this trend will continue in 2024.
ACTION: Suicide prevention legislation will focus on several policy areas:
- Enhancing treatment.
- Enhancing training for state personnel who interact with veterans.
- Collecting better data on veteran suicide.
- Determining the efficacy of existing state programs.
- Establishing one-stop websites and offices where veterans can access services in a streamlined manner.
- Establishing commissions and/or task forces to conduct comprehensive studies of all services and benefits for veterans.
Trending: Expanding Benefits
States are considering enhanced benefits like those in a new Colorado law that establishes a program in the Behavioral Health Administration to supplement and extend mental health services to veterans when federal benefits are exhausted. Several states also are examining ways to improve their implementation of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides help for those experiencing a mental health crisis.
Hot Topic: Supporting Military Installations
Military spending is significant to many state economies. Department of Defense contract obligations and payroll spending in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in fiscal year 2021 totaled $559 billion. Virginia was the top state for total DOD spending in FY 2022, with $62.7 billion, accounting for 10.2% of state gross domestic product and supporting 251,230 jobs connected to the military sector.
ACTION: To help support military installations, and sustain their employment impact and overall economic footprint, states increasingly are providing funds for near-base and on-base infrastructure needs, and seeking ways to protect bases from the encroachment of civilian activities. In 2024, states will continue to address such needs, as Virginia recently did in creating new grants for planning and design, construction or completion of infrastructure projects that enhance military readiness, installation resiliency or quality of life for military communities.
Hot Topic: Augmenting National Guard Benefits
The National Guard serves state and federal roles. The forces, which are organized by units, are state organizations, and state laws give governors the authority to activate them in domestic emergencies such as natural disasters and civil disturbances. The president can also call up the National Guard to federal duty to support war efforts and national emergencies. Many of the roughly 450,000 guard members work in civilian jobs while serving part time alongside full-time service members. The states with at least 15,000 National Guard members include California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
ACTION: Legislatures are augmenting the benefits available to guard members and this trend will endure into 2024 and beyond. States are formalizing leaves of absence when guard members are deployed, and they are indemnifying actions while on military status. Many states give guard members tuition assistance or tuition waivers and other educational assistance. Several states exempt guard members from all or part of state income tax payments. A recent example of a new benefit is the Maryland Healthcare for Heroes Act of 2023, which reimburses Maryland Guard members up to $60 per month to cover the cost of health care premiums and dental care.
Jim Reed is the director of NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program; he also staffs NCSL’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs.