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 offered by states 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; this brief analyzes the state-level benefits available for members of the National Guard and Reserves.
Veteran Benefits for Members of the National Guard and Reserves
Colloquially, the term “veteran” is considered anyone who served in the U.S. military; however, the legal definition is more restrictive. Federal law defines a veteran as a person who “performed active military, naval, or air service” and who was “discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” This definition has an outsized impact on the reserve component—which consists of the United States Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy Reserves, the Army National Guard and Air National Guard—and comprises about half of the total force. Those who serve in the reserve component can hold veteran status if certain conditions are met, but they do not automatically qualify for all federal benefits afforded to veterans of the active component. Although many of the guardsmen and reservists who served after 9/11 will receive full veteran benefits, recent legal changes mean those who served in peacetime may be eligible for different benefits. Legislation enacted in 2016 gave official veteran status to guardsmen and reservists after 20 years of service; previously, they would have had to serve 180 days or more on active-duty mobilization by the federal government, not state orders. In this research, some benefits are coded as available to “all veterans,” for which guardsmen and reservists would also be eligible. In recognition of National Guard service at the state level, some states attempt to fill benefit gaps at the federal level through offering state-level benefits.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia offer benefits for members of the National Guard and reserve component, with a total of 295 applicable benefits nationwide. Missouri offers the greatest number of National Guard and Reserves benefits at 16; Idaho and the District of Columbia each offer only one. After Missouri, the states of Oregon, Kansas, and New York were the most generous with National Guard and Reserves benefits, with Oregon offering 13 and Kansas and New York offering 10. The average number of benefits available to guardsmen and reservists was six.
Education benefits are the most popular type offered to members of the National Guard and Reserves. Conversely, no state offers memorial benefits specific to the Guard and Reserves community. After education, employment-related benefits are the second most common category for National Guard and Reserves, with (re)-employment protection for those required to leave their civilian jobs in the course of their military duty the most common subcategory. Due to the nature of short-notice mobilizations to respond to natural disasters or overseas deployments to support the active component, 39 states offer employment protection for these military members and 22 states have anti-discrimination laws that apply to guardsmen and reservists. Only Kentucky has specific anti-discrimination law for National Guard status. Existing federal employment protection for National Guard members covers only active-duty status under federal orders and so these state benefits fill in the gap.
While education benefits are the most numerically common category offered to members of the National Guard, this is skewed due to the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children (the Compact), which all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted. The Compact supports standardization of school policies for military children to address conflicting academic requirements and is primarily geared toward active-duty military families who move frequently. Because it also applies to the National Guard and Reserves, it adds 51 educational benefits to the overall count. The most common education subcategory besides the primary/secondary school assistance of the Compact is scholarships, with 33 benefits available.
Thirty states, evenly distributed across the country, offer tuition assistance benefits or scholarships to guardsmen and reservists. More than half offer 100 percent tuition coverage at public institutions of higher education. Three midwestern states (Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota) offer a 50 percent tuition discount at state institutions. Five states (Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Montana) offer levels of scholarship ranging from $1,000 in Florida to $10,000 in Minnesota.
The majority of tuition assistance benefits are open to all guardsmen and reservists, though a few state place additional qualifying restrictions on them. California and Washington require an honorable discharge if the recipient is a veteran; Georgia requires combat service while opening the benefit to dependents; Minnesota restricts education benefits to reservists and guardsmen with more than five years honorable service and certain dependents or survivors; and Nevada offers full tuition for survivors of those whose deaths were service connected.
Eleven states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wyoming) offer either emergency relief or care for guardsmen and reservists and their families through financial assistance or supplies. Alaska and Delaware have family assistance centers that offer activated National Guard members and their families support through the mobilization process. The remaining nine states operate emergency relief funds that offer a range of funding for military members and their families. The Rhode Island Family Relief Fund is the most generous, offering up to $5,000 in one-time emergency relief grants for guardsmen, reservists, and their families in times of need. While the various benefits differ in scope, eligibility, and terms, these 11 states provide valuable benefits to a segment of the military community that is often overlooked; those living dual civilian-military lives and careers through the National Guard and Reserves.
Seventeen states offer tax benefits for guardsmen and reservists; four states have tax benefits specific to the National Guard. Benefits vary widely: Kentucky offers a full exemption on military income tax plus a small tax credit of $20 for National Guard membership; South Carolina has a $3,000 exemption on income earned through National Guard drills; and Mississippi offers an income tax deduction on National Guard income up to $15,000. In 2020 Missouri is offering a 20 percent income tax exemption for the National Guard and Reserves. The remaining tax benefits range from income tax deductions for mobilized guardsmen, combat pay, or exemptions on vehicle taxes in Alabama.
The reserve component of the armed forces is often overlooked in terms of federal benefits and recognition. While states have resources for the National Guard and Reserves—especially for mobilization relief, education, and taxes—benefit gaps exist between active-duty veterans and guardsmen and reservists at the state level. In CNAS’ analysis, benefits categorized as eligible to “all veterans” may still use the federal definition of veteran regarding guardsmen and reservists with fewer than 20 years of service. It is important to carefully research state-level benefits and confirm eligibility with the relevant state government agencies and departments, as availability and requirements can change.
Read more in the CNAS Military, Veterans and Society Program's "Supporting the Veteran Community" commentary series.
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