Reps. Bell and Szoka: Supporting North Carolina's Military Families

Fayetteville Observer
By Reps. John Bell and John Szoka

On the third Saturday in May each year, we pause and celebrate Armed Forces Day, a time to honor those who wear our nation’s uniform. In North Carolina, we pride ourselves for being one of the friendliest military states in the nation and we have worked hard at the General Assembly to pass legislation that helps improve the lives of active-duty service members, veterans, and their families.

With the fifth largest military population in the nation and home to eight military bases, including the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg and the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, the Republican-led state legislature has made it a priority to support our men and women in uniform, the military installations they serve on and the communities that support them.

Last year’s budget contained significant policy changes affecting active-duty service members, retirees and veterans. Most notably, the budget eliminated the state income tax on military pensions. This is an important way to honor the service and sacrifice of those who dedicated 20 years or more to the defense of our county.

While this tax change reduces revenue to the state in the short term, it becomes revenue-positive in less than three years by retaining skilled and motivated military retirees in North Carolina and by attracting out-of-state military retirees to move to North Carolina and contribute to our growing economy.

Looking to the future, the budget allocates $1 million to protecting our state’s military installations from being relocated outside of North Carolina through another potential round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The best response to any efforts to move forces out of North Carolina is to be prepared.

We all know the great effects of military service also extends to their families, who help to bear a tremendous burden. That is why our budget increases scholarship funding for children and spouses of active-duty service members and disabled veterans.

House Bill 53, which was passed into law last year, allows in-state college-bound high schoolers to qualify for in-state tuition even if their parents get military orders to another state.

Recognizing the stress that deployments have on service members, DMV penalties and fees are now waived for service members if their registration expires while on deployment. Additionally, it gives service members up to 30 days upon return from deployment to renew an expired license without penalty and provides deployed military personnel the ability to convert their provisional license to a full license online.

Veterans are at a 50% higher risk of suicide than their peers, and we did more to ensure that these men and women have the support and resources they need and deserve. To address and prioritize the mental health of those who have served in harm’s way, we included $400,000 in the budget for suicide prevention services for veterans and active-duty military.

We also established the ‘No Veteran Left Behind’ program to expand access to mental health support for veterans. If you or someone you know needs help, there is always support available through the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 800-273-8255.

This Armed Forces Day, please join us in showing your appreciation for those who are serving and their families. These brave men and women sacrifice so much for us and the freedoms we hold dear.

As legislators, we will continue to work to make North Carolina the most military friendly state in the nation and advocate for legislation that supports those who have answered the call of duty.

Rep. John Bell is the N.C. House Majority Leader and Rep. John Szoka, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, represents Cumberland County in the N.C. House.