By Andy Yates
As we all paused this Veterans’ Day to remember all of those who have served our country, we should also remember to thank those who are working hard to make sure our veterans receive the support, recognition and benefits they have earned and deserve.
When Gov. Pat McCrory took office in January 2013, North Carolina was in the midst of a 12-year trend of veterans leaving the state. North Carolina’s state-level operations aimed at assisting veterans were disorganized and disjointed. Sadly, our state was earning a reputation for being unfriendly to veterans and a state making it harder for vets to receive an education and find well-paying jobs. Thankfully, McCrory quickly seized control of this situation demanding that officials throughout his administration make veterans affairs a top priority and charging them with transforming North Carolina into the nation’s friendliest state for veterans.
Now our governor’s leadership, vision and hard work as well as that of Maj. Gen. Cornell Wilson, now the secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Ilario Pantano, selected by McCrory to be assistant secretary of veterans affairs, are paying off.
The 12-year trend of veterans leaving North Carolina has been reversed and we’re now eighth in the nation in the number of veterans. North Carolina’s Division of Veterans Affairs has more than doubled the number of veterans served, the division’s footprint has increased by 30 percent and its productivity by 100 percent, all while reducing costs!
As a direct result of the hard work of the Division of Veterans Affairs, the amount of retirement benefits and compensation received by N.C. veterans (benefits and compensation they earned through service to our nation) increased by $1 billion from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2014. It’s easier than ever for new veterans in our state to find the resources and support they need to successfully transition back to civilian life.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment so far has been the creation of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, whose building was officially dedicated earlier this week on the birthday of the United State Marines Corps. Under the direction of Wilson this new department will unite all services focused on supporting our military and veterans under one umbrella and will give those in charge of taking care of our veterans at the state level a much-needed seat at the table in the governor’s cabinet. This will no doubt result in services being delivered more efficiently and effectively and will focus more attention on the needs of our state’s veterans.
Another major win for veterans was a new state law that allows members of the military who are stationed in North Carolina but not legal residents of the state to be able to receive in-state tuition at North Carolina’s universities and community colleges immediately upon living this service. The new law waived the 12-month residency requirement to receive in-state tuition for certain non-resident veterans and those entitled to education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty Education Program or the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program.
Prior to this, many newly retired members of the military were fleeing the state because they were not eligible for in-state tuition (including some who had been stationed in NC for years). This change has resulted in many of these talented and skilled vets remaining in our state.
A third signature achievement for veterans in North Carolina was the passing of the Credit for Military Training Bill, which McCrory advocated strongly for and signed into law. This bill allows veterans to turn their military training and experience into professional certifications and licenses and into college credit at North Carolina’s universities and community colleges. The law also requires the state’s public universities, community colleges and professional licensure boards to work with the military to develop programs to close any gaps that might exist between military training and state requirements for professional licenses.
This legislation is a major step in encouraging veterans leaving military service to remain in North Carolina, to assist veterans in finding well-paying jobs and to ensure our state’s employers have the highly skilled, disciplined workforce they need to thrive here.
These big wins are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are just some of the other major accomplishments achieved by the McCrory administration in their efforts to make North Carolina our nation’s friendliest state for veterans:
- Established the state’s first veterans treatment courts, which are designed to offer alternatives to veterans whose difficulties dealing with issues such as PTSD and the stress of adjusting from military to civilian life have resulted in them turning to alcohol and drug abuse and committing low-level, non-violent crimes. There are now four treatment courts in state which may treat veterans from across the state. They have proven highly successful at helping veterans turn around their lives (the first court in Harnett County has a 0 percent recidivism rate) and have won national acclaim.
- Created the 844-NC4Vets call center that has fielded over 10,000 inquiries from veterans and provided lifesaving crisis management for veterans in distress
- Developed the NC4Vets resource guide (over 200,000 of which have been distributed across the state including to newly separating service members at both Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune) and the NC4Vets website which provide our veterans with a guide to all of the resources that are available to them through the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Departments, and nonprofit partner organizations and the benefits they’ve earned along with employment, education, health care, housing and personal services available for veterans
- Held the first ever NC Women’s Veterans Summit & Expo in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the North Carolina National Guard and private non-profit organizations with over 500 women veterans in attendance
- Became the only state in the U.S. to start an external whistleblower line for federal VA employee complaints outside of the VA chain of command in response to the 2014 VA health crisis resulting in hundreds of complains which the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs worked with the VA to resolve as well as several complaints that were referred to our U.S. Senators’ offices for further action
- Established a strong focus on homeless vets increasing outreach and events aimed at reaching them and expanding the number of resources available through both the state Division of Veterans Affairs and nonprofit partner organizations
McCrory and his administration, led by Wilson and Pantano, have done more for North Carolina veterans than any governor in the long history of our state. That’s not an opinion, that’s fact! North Carolina veterans are in good hands with the McCrory administration, and North Carolina is well on the way to answering the governor’s charge to become the nation’s friendliest state for veterans.
Andy Yates is senior partner and co-founder at Red Dome Group, a Republican political consulting, issue advocacy, and public affairs firm based in North Carolina and operating nationally. Yates was recently named as a “Rising Star” by Campaigns & Elections Magazine.