Policy Thoughts for Veterans Day

John Teichert, Candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland

As the Commander of Joint Base Andrews, I had the unique opportunity to directly hear from military members, their families, and veterans about their biggest issues of concern. While a base commander is responsible for leading the mission of the base, they are also to create a thriving community that includes on-base schools, housing, shopping, recreation, transportation, and utilities. It requires a keen eye of leadership within the 17,000-person base perimeter, and an active sense of seeking collaborative opportunities with local, state, and federal officials. This leadership role includes a focus on military members, military families, government civilians, support contractors, and veterans in the community. When talking to this diverse group, the same set of issues kept rising to the top, revealing the sad truth that policies in Maryland were a burden to the military community.

For the military retirees, the issue was a singular one – Maryland is one of a few states that taxes military pensions. Fifteen states tax some or all of the retirement pay that our military members have earned during their patriotic and selfless careers. Sadly, Maryland is one of them. Time and again, I heard the same refrain – military retirees would leave the service from an assignment in Maryland and would love to stay in our great state. Yet, to support their financial well-being, they and their family would deliberately move to a state that would not take a chunk of their hard-earned retirement pay. In doing so, they would transport their skills with them, providing another state the economic and community advantages that come with such a distinguished population group. It is a self-induced brain drain, a skill drain, and a community drain from our great state.

The argument for taxing military pensions is a myopic one – Maryland needs every ounce of revenue to fund a growing set of expenditures that are a part of a systemic budget deficit that is approaching the crisis stage. Yet, as most other states have recognized, not taxing military pensions actually yields a net gain in tax revenue because veteran activity spurs growth and boosts the tax base. Part of Maryland’s economic doldrums are caused by this short-sighted policy that must be revised for our own well-being. Federal legislation that prohibits taxing military pensions could save Maryland from itself in this respect.

        For the active military members and their spouses, there were two consistent concerns among our population, both related to military families – they wanted good schools for their kids and good job opportunities for their spouses. These two issues were powerful enough that military members would sometimes leave their family behind at a previous assignment where schools were better and spouses were employed when their forecast was not favorable about the situation in Maryland. This family separation is a hardship exacerbated by Maryland policies that create military retention problems and resultant national security concerns.

The school problem would be mitigated by intentionally using Federal Impact Aid funds to provide support for military students whose frequent moves create unique challenges. Often in Maryland, these funds are simply used to support general activities instead of targeting the needs of the population group it was designed to help. Programs that are deliberately designed to resolve the particular challenges of military children can reduce the resilience concerns that weigh on the minds of military families. It can be as simple as designing welcome and integration events for new students and hiring a designated faculty member to guide a new student through the curricular, extracurricular, and social challenges of being the new kid. Spouse employment challenges parlay into these concerns as well.

Military spouses are unemployed at a rate that is six times greater than the national unemployment average, and underemployment is even worse. Part of the problem is military deployments that regularly create single-parent families with unique childcare concerns. An additional part of the problem is the instability of frequent military moves that uproot a spouse and hinder career continuity. Yet, the biggest part of the problem is the lack of portability of military spouse licenses and certifications.

When a military spouse moves from one state to another, their license does not automatically travel with the spouse. While they were fully qualified to work in one state – as a doctor, teacher, nurse, hairdresser, lawyer, etc. – they are no longer officially qualified when they move to another state. Some states proactively allow a miliary spouse to work in their state with a license from another state; Maryland does not. I’ve talked to spouses that had to spend a year of extra training and over $8,000 in training fees just to requalify in Maryland even though the skills they brought with them met the same standards. This single item creates major problems with recruiting and retention of military personnel while robbing our Maryland communities of highly professional workers that could fill employment gaps immediately if the rules were different.

Initiated by my advocacy when I was the Commander of Edwards Air Force Base in California, Congressman Mike Garcia authored federal legislation that requires states to accept the licenses of our military spouses as they move around the country. It was signed into law in December 2022, providing a huge boost to 132,000 military spouses in licensed career fields. Unfortunately, Maryland has yet to implement this federal law, and has settled on relegating it to the black hole of a long-term study.

Implementing this federal law would have a multi-faceted benefit in Maryland. It would draw military families to desire assignments in the state, it would help boost lagging numbers of military retention, and it would help solve Maryland’s problems in finding fully qualified professionals in a variety of areas. Notably, teacher and nurse positions are chronically difficult to fill, an embarrassing statistic when we have an entire population who is already skilled and qualified in these areas, but who have been relegated to the sidelines.

These biggest issues among our veteran and military population are not overly complex, and simply require a dedication and determination to set aside parochial thinking to create the right polices to resolve. Doing so would turn a distinct competitive disadvantage for Maryland into a thriving competitive advantage that would attract and retain a population group that we should welcome with open arms in thanks for their remarkable service to our great nation!

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