As President Joe Biden pulled back our military presence in Afghanistan, we bore witness to the daily bravery and terror present in the lives of our service members and their allies abroad. We often remember the sacrifices they and their families make on holidays like Veterans and Memorial Day, or occasions like the imminent 20th anniversary of Sept. 11. Veterans, service members and their families, however, deserve our consistent attention and support.
We both write with pride in the military service among our family members, from World War II to the War on Terror, including the ultimate sacrifice. As fewer Americans feel the immediate impact of military service, it is even more imperative that we support our military families and service members who face greater burdens while making these great sacrifices.
A 2011 Pew Research Center survey highlighted the growing military-civilian gap, with more than three-quarters of adults ages 50 and older saying they had an immediate family member — a spouse, parent, sibling or child — who had served in the military, largely serving prior to the phasing out of the military draft in 1973.
Adults under the age of 50 are much less likely to have family members who served in the military — 57 percent of those ages 30-49 and only one third of Americans ages 18-29. This is reflective of the fact that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population now serves in the military.
The Legislature is working to ensure those who volunteered to serve are acknowledged for the sacrifices they and their families have made. Going into the 2022 session, there are 18 proposed bills in the House and five in the Senate to address the different hardships and challenges experienced, as well as to align with other states’ treatment of military families and veterans.
S.104, introduced by Sens. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Thomas Chittenden of Chittenden County, provides that the spouse and dependent child of any person who is a member of the U.S. armed forces and stationed in this state pursuant to military orders be considered a resident for in-state tuition purposes and does not lose that status if the member transfers out of state on military orders.
H.146, co-sponsored by Rep. Carol Ode of Burlington, proposes to exempt disability and pension income for veterans who are permanently and totally disabled from the calculation of household income for the purpose of determining the income sensitivity property tax credit.
H.71, which is co-sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad, proposes to exempt U.S. military retirement pay from the Vermont personal income tax. Vermont is one of just three states in the country that fully taxes military retirement pay, and we believe even a partial exemption can serve to welcome former military members to contribute to our communities and economy.
H.185, introduced by Rep. Matthew Birong of Vergennes, would also exempt from income tax all U.S. military survivor benefit income received by the surviving spouse of a deceased service member.
On the federal level, a great deal of work is being done to encourage Congress to act on the issues of toxic exposure. Many of our veterans are developing rare forms of cancer and respiratory illness as a result of their exposure to airborne toxins from burnpits and other chemical exposures during their deployments and on U.S. soil.
Currently, over 75 percent of veterans filing disability claims due to exposure are being denied their claim. We are working with members of Congress and their staff to ensure veterans and military members get the healthcare they need and deserve due to their exposure while serving our country.
We must never forget any American, or our allies around the globe, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our democracy. As our freedoms become ever more precious and fragile, we must support and thank those who sacrifice on our behalf.
Sen. Kesha R. Hinsdale is a Democrat who represents Chittenden County in the Vermont Senate.
June D. Heston, also a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for a Chittenden County Senate seat in 2020.