National Guard May 2012 : Page 32

Added Gratuities By Andrew Waldman Budgets continue to be tight, but that isn’t preventing states from providing their Guardsmen with some fairly unique benefits F YOU’RE A National Guardsman in Alaska, help yourself to a free hunting and fishing license. An Ohio Guardsman’s full tuition is paid if he chooses to attend a state university. In Iowa, a Guardsman might qualify for a $5,000 grant to use as a down payment on a house. In other states, Guardsmen are eligible for special license plates at no or low cost, free group life insurance and state income-tax exemptions. A few states even offer retirement pay. For years, states have provided benefits like these for their citizen-soldiers and airmen. It’s no I 32 | Na tional Guard

Added Gratuities

Andrew Waldman

Budgets continue to be tight, but that isn’t preventing states from providing their Guardsmen with some fairly unique benefits<br /> <br /> IF YOU’RE A National Guardsman in Alaska, help yourself to a free hunting and fishing license.<br /> <br /> An Ohio Guardsman’s full tuition is paid if he chooses to attend a state university. In Iowa, a Guardsman might qualify for a $5,000 grant to use as a down payment on a house.<br /> <br /> In other states, Guardsmen are eligible for special license plates at no or low cost, free group life insurance and state income-tax exemptions. A few states even offer retirement pay.<br /> <br /> For years, states have provided benefits like these for their citizen-soldiers and airmen. It’s no Secret that some of these programs are intended to boost recruitment and retention, but many are just a way to honor service in the Guard—a thank you from a grateful state.<br /> <br /> The benefits range from discounted or free college tuition to special employment rights for deployed Guardsmen.<br /> <br /> Many of the benefits are extremely popular, which can be both a blessing and a curse. While many Guardsmen take advantage of what the states offer, some states have been struggling to provide them due to high demand and budgets strained by the recession.<br /> <br /> Iowa is a good example. The Hawkeye State provides a robust list of benefits to Guardsmen, including tax exemptions, education benefits such as free certifications and tuition assistance, and plots in a special cemetery for Iowa veterans.<br /> <br /> The state’s Military Homeownership Assistance Program is a popular benefit that provides home grants, says Iowa State Rep. Royd Chambers, a Republican who chairs the legislature’s veterans affairs committee.<br /> <br /> It provides a $5,000 grant to cover closing costs or a down payment on a home to eligible veterans, including Guardsmen, who have served on Title 10 federal active-duty for 90 days or more.<br /> <br /> It’s been particularly popular lately, especially since the recent return from Afghanistan of Iowa Army Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.<br /> <br /> In fact, so many Guardsmen have applied that the program ran out of funding this year. Chambers says the legislature is trying to add more funds for next year.<br /> <br /> “We have been keenly aware of new challenges that we face in relation to the fact that Iowa has recently had the largest deployment of our servicemen and women since World War II,” says Chambers, who is a Guardsman. “As these soldiers return home in large amounts, we are seeing strains on our budgets.” <br /> <br /> Retired Col. Larry McKnight, the executive director of the National Guard Association of Tennessee, says his state’s legislature has been considering some cuts to benefits.<br /> <br /> For example, the Army Guard offers a federal tuition assistance program and many Army Guardsmen also have access to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, so a small state tuition-assistance program is “one of the things that’s looked at in the budget” each year, McKnight says.<br /> <br /> “We have not seen any significant cuts yet.” <br /> <br /> While budget strains have caused some re-examination of state benefits, they haven’t stopped states from providing new ones.<br /> <br /> Chambers says Iowa legislators field many requests for benefits from constituents. But they also take cues from other states and receive feedback from Guard lobbyists. Feedback from various sources led to a $1.3 million increase in funding to the state’s tuition-assistance program this year.<br /> <br /> “In Iowa, this program provides a good incentive to join the Guard,” he says. “This bipartisan bill was one of the first pieces of legislation signed by the governor this year.” <br /> <br /> Hawaii has a more formal group of military advocates, associations and others who sit down and work together on benefits issues, says Hawaii State Rep. K. Mark Takai, a member of the Hawaii Guard.<br /> <br /> The group put together a military appreciation package in 2004 to help soldiers in the state’s only brigade, the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Many benefits also helped active-component service members.<br /> <br /> “We wanted to pull our collective energy together and not only support our National Guard, but also our active duty,” says Takai.<br /> <br /> Since Hawaii has a large military footprint, legislators have been responsive to the requests of militaryrelated advocates.<br /> <br /> “We have a pretty tight-knit network in Hawaii, so a few times a year, we sit down and dream these things up ourselves,” he says.<br /> <br /> One addition to Hawaii’s arsenal of benefits in 2008 was a discount on the state’s vehicle-weight tax exemption. The benefit has been well-received, Takai says.<br /> <br /> “That’s money in your pocket,” he says. “And what I like about that particular benefit is that Guardsmen can actually see that.” <br /> <br /> When it comes to budgeting for state benefits for Guardsmen, the game is a bit of a balancing act between what serving Guardsmen have access to on the federal level and what potential members might be attracted to when they enter a recruiter’s office.<br /> <br /> Takai says education benefits are one of those balancing acts. While many Hawaii Guardsmen can take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Guardsmen who don’t qualify need some other type of education benefit, and they look to the state to provide it.<br /> <br /> New Guardsmen “are the people we need to focus on in terms of recruitment,” he says. “They are coming into the Guard because of the educational benefits. We believe that it’s an important benefit to continue.” <br /> <br /> A partial list of benefits broken down by state can be found on the Air Guard recruiting site, www.goang.com.<br /> <br /> Andrew Waldman can be reached at<br /> andrew.waldman@ngaus.org or at (202)408-5892.

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