In the post-9/11 era, a “sea of goodwill” made up of organizations in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors has formed to support veterans, service members, their families, and survivors. While services from nonprofit organizations and federal agencies are widely known, benefits states offer to veterans are less so. State-level benefits, though extensive, vary widely and are often difficult to identify. To fill that gap, CNAS developed a State Veteran Benefit Finder with easily searchable information about 1,814 identified benefits. This tool allows users to filter state-level veteran benefits by type of benefit, beneficiary, and state to identify benefits for which they may be eligible, providing a unique and invaluable reference. The accompanying report, “From Sea to Shining Sea: State-Level Benefits for Veterans,” offers analysis of trends in state-level benefits and includes recommendations for an array of key stakeholders, from veterans to those who serve them, across domains. A series of follow-on briefs provides deeper dives into specific topics.
Benefits Available for Other than Dishonorable Discharges
Access to federal veteran benefits such as the VA healthcare system and G.I. education benefits are limited to veterans with an honorable discharge. The three main types of administrative discharges from military service include honorable, general, and other than honorable (OTH), carrying varying degrees of conduct associations. Bad conduct discharges (BCD) and dishonorable discharges (DD) vary in degree of infraction and limitations on benefits eligibility. The vast majority of state-level veteran benefits are limited to veterans with an honorable discharge through the eligibility language decided on by the state agencies. Veterans with non-punitive, yet not honorable discharge statuses (general and OTH) are still eligible for certain state-level benefits, whereas veterans with DD are generally not eligible as defined by states themselves.
Health & Housing
Health and housing are the largest benefit categories for veterans with other than dishonorable discharges, with 32 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands offering some form of health and housing benefit. In 20 of these states, veterans are eligible to live in state veterans’ homes or receive transitional housing assistance. Many state-level health and housing benefits focus on supporting homeless veterans. For example, Washington’s Homeless Veteran Reintegration/Transitional Housing Program assists veterans in crisis with immediate needs such as food and housing.
Death & Memorial
Death and memorial state-level benefits are the second largest benefit categories available for veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge. A total of 59 death and memorial benefits are available to these veterans across 39 states. These benefits largely address the cost of burial services and range in coverage from Alaska’s $750 death gratuity for surviving spouses to cover funeral expenses to Louisiana’s 100 percent coverage of funeral and burial costs for service members in a Louisiana state veterans cemetery.
Recreation & State Government Services
The third largest benefit categories for veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge are recreational and state government services benefits, with 41 available across 27 states. Thirty-six of these benefits are state government services and deal almost entirely with veterans’ designations on license plates and driver’s licenses. Kansas, Maryland, South Carolina, and Texas offer to count time served in the military toward retirement benefits for state employees. Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wisconsin offer free or discounted access to state parks as well as free or discounted hunting and fishing licenses for veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge.
There are 39 employment benefits available across 25 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands for veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge. The majority of these benefits focus on veteran’s preference, which gives preference to hiring veterans for state government jobs. This can be particularly helpful for veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge who may struggle to find employment. Some states also offer tax incentives for hiring veterans, such as Utah’s Veteran Employment Tax Credit which provides individuals and business up to a $4,800 tax credit for hiring veterans.
Business & Financial
Veterans with other than dishonorable discharge status are eligible for 18 business and financial benefits across 12 states. These benefits cover a wide range of issues, from Maryland’s expedited professional licensing health care and educational professional licenses to Wisconsin’s veteran-owned business designation. Many of these benefits are very niche and any veteran with an other than dishonorable discharge are encouraged to browse the benefits themselves to see any apply to their specific situation.
While veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge are not eligible for the GI Bill, they may still qualify for certain state-level education benefits. For those with an other than dishonorable discharge, only 11 educational benefits are available across nine states, limiting these potential options, though Missouri and North Dakota offering in-state tuition rates for veterans regardless of their residency status.
Legal Advocacy and Assistance
Six states— Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Carolina—offer legal benefits that are available for veterans with an other than dishonorable discharge. These legal benefits center on assistance for veterans facing severe challenges, such as incarceration, substance abuse, mental health problems including PTSD and re-entry.
Administrative discharges that are not honorable impact a veterans’ ability to successfully transition from a possibly challenging military service period to a civilian community. While general and OTH discharge statuses prohibit access to many benefits and programs, some states have options available for veterans who often slip through the cracks. Although most state-level benefits for veterans with other than dishonorable discharge statuses list their eligibility requirements, it is important to verify with the specific state agency or program as eligibility criteria or coverage may change. There is clearly room for growth in this category of state-level benefits, as evidenced by the dearth of options explored in this brief.
Read more in the CNAS Military, Veterans and Society Program's "Supporting the Veteran Community" commentary series.
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