National Guard Sacrifices Hit Home
By Jennifer Nedeau, Special to Stateline
All but one state — Delaware — has lost National Guard troops in the U.S. war on terror. Pennsylvania has suffered the highest number of losses — 31 of a total 480 Guard deaths since Sept. 11, 2001, while North Dakota’s 13 deaths are the highest per capita in the country.
In an unprecedented show of support for the troops, state legislatures throughout the country are recognizing their service with a variety of benefits.
“Over the past five years since 9/11, states have dramatically increased benefits they provide to Guard members at state level,” said John Goheen, director of communications for the National Guard Association, a nonprofit group. “There is a heightened level of appreciation of what these men and women are giving up.”
The effort builds on the legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in the closing days of World War II signed legislation that provided veterans of that conflict with education and housing assistance and unemployment benefits.
Every state offers some form of benefits to Guard members, who are called up from civilian life to serve governors in times of natural disaster and the president in time of war. Some benefits are targeted only at the Guard, while others are offered to any state resident serving in the armed forces. Benefits vary, ranging from free or reduced tuition at state colleges or universities to tax breaks, life insurance and death benefits, among other things.
By expanding benefits to Guard members, Goheen said states are saying “thank you” and also are creating tools to boost National Guard retention and recruiting.
The latest trend is to cover next of kin. Earlier this month, Washington became the 39th state to offer education assistance to children and spouses of Guard members when Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed a measure that waives tuition and fees at the state’s public universities and colleges for spouses and children of fallen warriors or those who are disabled, captured or missing in action.
State legislatures also have acted to give Guard troops, who have been called to repeated tours of duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a break on car-loan payments and cell-phone contracts and to make it easier to submit an absentee ballot from abroad.
One of the most recent actions came May 3 when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed legislation giving active-duty military, Army reservists and National Guard members a break on state income taxes. The new law more than doubles the maximum allowable income-tax deduction for military pay, raising it from $2,000 to $5,000 a year.
Colorado state Rep. Joe Rice (D), who served Iraq combat tours with both the Guard and reserves, is leading the drive in his state Legislature for a benefits package for mobilized guardsmen and Army reservists. His proposal would make it easier for soldiers to cast absentee ballots and receive free in-state tuition and assistance with life-insurance premiums.
“Whether someone served in a past conflict or is serving now, they have needs and there is an appropriate role for the state to meet those needs,” Rice told Stateline.org.
More than 20 states have set up Military Family Relief Assistance Funds. By checking a box on income-tax forms, taxpayers can donate to help military families. Illinois pioneered the program in 2002. This year, California, Indiana, Missouri, and Pennsylvania enacted similar laws.
A total of 480 National Guard men and women have died in the U.S. war on terror between May 17, 2007, and Sept. 11, 2001, when five members were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to the Guard’s Web site. Overall, 3,431 U.S. military have died in the war in Iraq since 2001.