PHOENIX, AZ (STL.News) Arizona’s veterans and service members have stepped up to support our communities and those in need during the pandemic. From supporting food banks to providing supplies to the Navajo Nation, ramping up vaccine administration in the Gila River Indian Community and much more, Arizona’s heroes are always there to help.
More than 500,000 service members, veterans and their families call Arizona home. Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services have worked to support and meet the needs of those who have done so much to protect our nation.
Here are a few ways Arizona is working to support those in uniform, veterans and their loved ones:
Protecting Mental Health
Arizona launched the Be Connected program in 2017 to focus on early intervention by connecting Arizona service members, veterans, families and helpers to information, support and resources, such as peer support and behavioral health services.
The program now has 44 staff members after starting with just one, and it has led to:
- More than 49,000 encounters to help Arizonans connect to community resources by phone, in-person or online, and
- More than 5,600 community members being trained in Resource Navigation.
Additional efforts to protect veterans’ mental health include Veteran Benefits Counselors (VBC), which work with veterans to secure federal dollars through VA disability, compensation and pension benefits. Governor Ducey’s FY22 Executive Budget invests in six additional VBC positions, allowing the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services (ADVS) to add 10,500 appointments for veterans, service members and families each fiscal year.
Expanding Job Opportunities
Veterans across the state can use the ADVS Veteran Toolkit to access the resources and supplies needed to start working and connect with job opportunities. The Toolkit launched in 2017 and assists veterans with uniforms, work boots, tools, and more.
In addition, the Arizona Roadmap to Veteran Employment is a statewide effort that focuses on connecting service members, veterans, and their family members to employment opportunities, training, and resources. It was developed in partnership by ADVS, Arizona Coalition for Military Families, and public and private sector partners and shareholders.
This legislative session, Representative Travis Grantham introduced House Bill (HB) 2243 and Senator Warren Petersen introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1149 to expand opportunities for Arizona’s veterans, service members and military spouses. The legislation requires a printed statement on all communications with a potential licensee that informs the applicant that they will be granted an occupational or professional license or certificate if the applicant has been licensed or certified in the same profession in another state for at least one year. The Governor signed SB 1149 into law on February 12, 2021.
Representative Joanne Osborne also introduced HB 2128, which requires that the occupational licensing fee be waived for any active duty military service member and the member’s spouse or for any veteran if the individual is applying for that specific license for the first time.
Enhancing Financial Support
Governor Ducey has been committed to increasing the amount of military retirement pay that is exempt from income tax. Governor’s executive budget proposal in 2018 included a provision to raise the allowable subtraction from $2,500 to $10,000. Through budget negotiations between the Executive and the Legislature, the allowable subtraction was raised to $3,500 in the final budget.
Senators David Gowan and Wendy Rogers this session introduced SB 1331 and SB 1359, respectively, to increase the maximum subtraction from Arizona gross income for veteran benefits, annuities and pensions. The legislation will increase the maximum subtraction from $3,500 to the full pension amount for taxable years beginning from and after December 31, 2020, including a retroactive date of January 1, 2021.
Additionally, Senator Sonny Borrelli introduced legislation to further support families of currently deployed service members and military and veteran families who faced hardships caused by the service member’s deployment. SB 1443 will update the eligibility criteria of the Military Family Relief Fund, which was established in 2007 to provide financial assistance to service members and military families.
Supporting State Veteran Homes
Governor Ducey’s Executive Budget invests in the Arizona State Veteran Homes, which provide professional skilled nursing and rehabilitative care for veterans and their spouses throughout the state.
The budget includes:
- An increase in funding for operating costs for the Arizona State Veteran Home in Tucson;
- An increase in funding for rehabilitative services in all four of the Department’s State Homes for Veterans, allowing the Department to offer enhanced services to more veterans while protecting the health and safety of residents;
- An increase in funding for operating costs of the new veteran homes in Flagstaff and Yuma; and more.