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.
Veteran Benefits in the Tri-State Area
States across the country offer benefits to veterans to recognize and honor their service. The greater New York City area is no exception, and comparing benefits offered by the states in the metro region may impact where a veteran chooses to live, using considerations beyond whether a Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commute is better. The NYC Metro Region consists of the five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, Northern and Central New Jersey, the Lower to Mid-Hudson Valley in New York State, and Western Connecticut. Although northeastern Pennsylvania is also considered part of the NYC Metro Area and offers 30 veteran benefits, for the purpose of this brief the comparisons and analysis will be focused on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The tri-state area is home to more than 600,000 veterans and their families. Across the tri-state area there are a combined 149 benefits available, with New Jersey and New York both offering 52 and Connecticut offering 45 to veterans, survivors and dependents; all of these are higher than the national average of 36 per state.
The variation in benefits available by state can be partially but not completely explained by the stark differences in population. As one of the most populous states in the country, New York leads the relevant states with over 19 million people, while New Jersey has nearly 9 million and Connecticut just 3.5 million. Within the statewide populations, New York is home to over 700,000 veterans, New Jersey over 300,000 veterans, and Connecticut nearly 200,000 veterans. The majority of veterans in New York States is congregated around New York City.
The most popular category of benefit in New York is education, with nine benefits available. Tax benefits are the most common in New Jersey, at nine benefits. There was a three-way tie between employment, health, and legal advocacy and assistance for the most common categories in Connecticut, with eight benefits each. These top categories— employment, education, and legal—are representative of the top categories nationwide. Three significant considerations for service members transitioning out of the military or for veterans considering a move may well be education, employment, and tax benefits.
New York boasts the highest number of education benefits (nine), while New Jersey offers five, and Connecticut offers three. In Connecticut, tuition at state colleges and universities is waived for wartime veterans. Tuition assistance for New Jersey veterans includes specific scholarships for veterans, survivors, and POW/MIA dependents. In New York State there are several available scholarships and tuition assistance programs available to veterans, including for National Guard members, wartime veterans, dependents, and disabled veterans. The Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute (MERIT) scholarship provides up to $24,250 for dependents of those who were killed in action or became 100 percent disabled as a result of their military service. New York offers a unique benefit among these three states by way of the “Experience Counts” campaign, which seeks to translate military experience into academic credits or state licensing requirements for careers in emergency medical services, as bus and truck drivers, and in other licensed occupations. New Jersey offers a generous education benefit for children of POW/MIA, covering 100 percent of tuition undergraduate studies at either a public or private institution in New Jersey. New York State offers full-tuition scholarships for eligible veterans at public institutions.
All three states also offer multiple employment-related benefits for veterans. Connecticut offers the most employment benefits (8), while New Jersey and New York both offer six. New York applies additional service credits to disabled veterans for civil service employment, New Jersey applies preferred status to wartime veterans, and Connecticut adds different amounts of points for state and municipal examinations for different service-connected experiences, such as wartime or disability status. Dependents are only eligible for one employment-related benefit in the tri-state area: in Connecticut veterans’ preference points for state employment are available to spouses.
Differences in tax benefits could be worth factoring into veterans’ decisions to live on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, in Westchester, or in Connecticut: New York and Connecticut only offer three tax benefits each, while New Jersey offers nine. More specifically, all three of New York’s tax benefits offer 100 percent exemptions for veterans for military retirement pensions, property tax, and state income tax for military pay. While some of these are restricted by wartime service or discharge status, New York State offers generous benefits in terms of 100 percent income and property tax exemptions for certain veterans. There are significant differences between these tax benefits in New York and nearby Jersey. For example, New York offers full property tax exemptions for wartime veterans, while New Jersey restricts their 100 percent property tax exemption to 100 percent disabled veterans. While both states offer 100 percent exemptions on military retirement pay, New Jersey also offers tax deferrals to survivors of service members killed in action, and zero property taxes for disabled veterans. Additionally, New Jersey offers an income tax exemption up to $3,000 for veterans and eligible survivors. Five of New Jersey’s tax benefits are for income and two are for property. Connecticut’s tax benefits are not as generous as those of New Jersey, with two of the three benefits exclusive to disabled veterans and limiting the benefit to specific monetary cutoffs, unlike the 100 percent benefit available in New Jersey.
In terms of housing assistance, New York State offers grants up to $15,000 and lower interest rates on home loans through the Homes for Veterans Program. This homeownership benefit is unmatched in either New Jersey or Connecticut. Each state offers unique benefits that don’t exist in other jurisdictions. New Jersey offers free transportation to veterans traveling to VA facilities. In New York, all veterans are eligible for $20 checks for use at Fresh Connect farmers markets. Finally, Connecticut recognizes veterans through the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame that honors veterans who had contributed to their communities after leaving military service.
The New York City metro region is very densely populated with people commuting across state lines to work in the city, which makes differences among veteran benefits a potential decision point for veterans who are aware of them. Connecticut offers very generous education benefits, New Jersey provides veterans with tax benefits that could significantly alter household budgets, and New York offers unique mortgage terms for veterans and their families. Veterans and their families living situations will vary widely and there is no one-size fits all in terms of which state to reside in. Benefits that will greatly enhance the quality of life of veterans and their families such as education, taxes, and employment should be taken into consideration and balanced against outside factors when they are making decisions as life circumstances change—and states should consider their own goals when deciding what benefits to offer their veterans. When deciding where in the metropolitan area to reside, veterans are encouraged to consult the State-Level Veteran Benefit Finder to determine whether available benefits should play a large role in their decision, confirming individual eligibility in advance. 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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