MVA is a non-partisan organization that advocates for freedom, security and prosperity with Montana Veterans for all Montanans.
MVA policy goals:
As a Veteran Advocacy Organization (VAO) MVA will collaborate with other VAO’s (Veteran Advocacy Organizations) and VSO’s (Veteran Service Organizations) on good, substantive policy and programs for Veterans & Military Families. Some of those collaborative efforts will be on the following federal Issues especially as they impact Montanans:
- Greater Choice & Access in VA Healthcare
- Outdoor Recreation for Veterans & Military Families
- Veterans County Veterans Service Offices
- Mission Act Implementation
- VA & Federal agency Accountability
- Foreign Policy
- National Security
- Vetrepreneurship & Veteran Economic Development.
The vision of the Montana Veteran’s Association is to unite Montana military veterans for a common purpose. One such purpose is to ensure Montana State law treats military veterans fairly. MVA members and leaders were successful in 2019 advocating for the following legislation that became law:
- HB 422- Increasing funds for the Montana Veteran Home Loan Mortgage Program. Members of the MVA successfully championed increasing the funding to the Montana Veteran Home Loan Program to $50 million. This program provides first time home mortgages to Montana military veterans at one of the lowest interest rates available. This program has been extremely successful and has a default rate of 0% throughout the life of the program.
- HB 172- Establishing county and multi-county Veterans’ Service Offices and providing grants to fund the VSOs. Once again, members of the MVA successfully championed this legislation. Now every Montana veteran and their family can have professional assistance in applying for their Veterans benefits without having to travel hundreds of miles to Helena. We will seek to expand county plans on this legislation with plans for all 56 county coverage.
Here at home in Montana MVA will advocate for the following policies in the 2021 Montana legislature:
Equity in taxation: MCA 15-30-2117(2) provides that state residents serving on active duty in the regular armed forces are exempt from state income tax. This unfairly treats those serving in the military in the National Guard or Reserve who often bore the burden of mobilization and deployments. Exemption of all military service pay, regardless of type of service, should be the norm and the Montana Veterans Association will advocate and work with Montana stakeholders to achieve this policy goal.
Donation of Hunting Licenses: A recent Montana law “allows residents and nonresidents to donate their hunting license to a disabled military veteran or disabled active duty service member who is working with an organization that uses hunting as part of the rehabilitation process.” MVA is committed to both promoting and expanding this program and working to change the law such that those donating the tag can select any Montana based Veterans organization of their choosing, so long as they meet certain requirements. Allowing tag owners to select the entity to which their donation is received will increase notoriety and promote mutual buy-in for the program. Simply put, empowering disabled veterans to get out in the great Montana outdoors is a noble and necessary endeavor.
Apprenticeship credits for military technical training and certification: While there have been efforts recognizing certain military training/educational courses/jobs as applicable to “civilian sector” apprenticeships and certifications, far more must be done to formalize and institutionalize military skills/training/experiences as legitimately equivalent to applicable Montana vocations and work-force policy. This initiative would serve to expedite transitioning military members, as well as our state’s veterans to career opportunities and employment marketability. If you are a truck driver in the Army, you should be credentialed to drive a truck when you return home. If you were a combat medic in the military, we think your skills should translate and fast track to becoming an EMT or Nurse. This applies to almost every trade skill learned while in service.
National Guard Activation to State Active Duty: The Governor, as the Commander in Chief, has the authority to call members of the Montana National Guard (Army and/or Air) to State Active Duty (SAD) to prepare for, prevent or mitigate, and respond to emergencies emerging from natural disasters, weather related events, cyber threats, and other concerns for the safety and well-being of our citizens. Current statutes providing for pay and allowances of our National Guard Soldiers and Airmen when ordered to SAD (see MCA 10-1-Part5) are inadequate. When National Guard members are serving Montana on SAD the members are vulnerable to wage and benefit losses from their civilian job and may suffer irreparable harm if injured or disabled. Policy changes to recognize this vulnerability and provide our National Guard members equal protections as provided while serving on Federal Active Duty should be considered.
Disaster and Emergency Services: Under Montana statute, each level of government is responsible for the safety and security of its residents. Montanans expect local, tribal and state governments to keep them informed and aid in the event of an emergency or disaster. The purpose of MCA Title 10 is to identify the roles, responsibilities and actions of state government during times of emergency or disaster. Title 10 also provides the Governor authority to activate the National Guard in support of these contingencies. The reason to characterize state activities during such times is to provide a consistent structure for seamlessly coordinating, integrating and administering the emergency operations plans and related programs of local, tribal, state and federal governments, participating volunteer agencies, private sector contributors and nongovernmental organizations. The MCA illustrates the state’s role in efforts to prevent, protect from, mitigate, respond to and recover from the effects of all-hazard incidents regardless of cause, size, location or complexity. MVA will recommend a Legislative Study to ensure MCA Title 10, Chapter 3, is current and providing Montanans with the best Disaster and Emergency Services.
MVA advocacy for Montana Veterans:
Property tax relief for disabled veterans: MCA 15-6-311 provides for a personal property tax exemption for a veterans’ residence, if the veteran is 100% service-connected disabled. This exemption also applies to the qualified disabled veteran’s spouse upon the veterans’ passing. As per the MCA, this exemption phases out based upon the veteran’s or spouse’s income. Consideration should be made to remove the service-connected criteria and eliminate the phase out of the exemption. Additionally, this exemption could be extended to spouses of military members, first responders and law enforcement personnel who are killed in the line of duty.
State coordination with VA – Rural Veteran Cemetery Initiative proposed: Some county or community cemetery operations would benefit from developing a veteran cemetery within their existing cemetery. The U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration oversees this effort and there are specific criteria that must be followed and that comes with an expense. However, the City of Bozeman has established a “rural vet cemetery” at Sunset Memorial Gardens and Park County has also, and it has proven to be quite successful and has been self-sustaining. The state may be able to establish a grant program to help communities with a part of the startup costs or just encourage communities to consider it.
Military retirement annuity state income tax exempt: Montana is just one of 7 states that does not provide tax exemption for the military retirement annuity. Providing this exemption is an economic development and workforce enhancement. Military retirees are typically age 39 to 45 though those ages can vary. They are ready to begin a new career, start a business or provide valuable community service to our state. They are also highly skilled workers. Inviting younger workforce veterans to Montana can help us with our workforce shortage. Our MVA approach is to promote the economic and workforce benefits to providing this exemption and will work with all stakeholders to empower the retired military members and their families towards workforce success.
VA Education benefit protections: Purported “educational institutions” have marketed their accepting VA education benefits for their curriculum/programs, without providing the advertised services/benefits; commonly resulting in the veteran’s inability to transfer earned “credits” to an accredited higher education program or to be utilized for other workforce interests, e.g., apprenticeships and trade schools. The veteran can expend her/his VA educational benefits and valuable time/effort at these “institutions,” leaving no or limited educational benefits remaining – with nothing to show for it. Recommend working closely with the Office of Public Instruction, Montana Veterans Affairs Division, and the Department of Labor and Industry to strengthen the criteria for (state-level) authorizing these “institutions’” eligibility for receiving veteran students’ VA education benefits, and – as a public service – discouraging unlawful, predatory business practices. Our bottom line is if the VA approves a Montana education program, those credits will be transferrable throughout the entire Montana University system.
Veteran outreach & Montana benefits navigators: According to the Veterans Administration there are nearly 100,000 veterans in Montana and according to several vet related groups the number could be as high as 130,000. The total is probably somewhere in between. We do know that 36% of eligible veterans are not enrolled in the VA system and 72% of Montana Veterans live in rural communities across Montana. Currently, Montana Veterans annually receive hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits from the U.S. Veterans Affairs. The most common process by which a Montana veteran is enrolled into the VA healthcare system and attains due benefits (e.g., disability compensation monies, death benefits, family benefits, vocational rehabilitation funds/hardware), is through the development and submission of a VA benefits “claim product” – most typically produced and submitted by an accredited and certified “veterans service officer.” It is critical that the claim product is accurate, comprehensive, and complete as possible, because the claim product’s quality directly impacts whether the veteran (or veteran family member) will receive VA benefits, to include healthcare. There are few “re-do” options, the benefit claim product must be done right the first time.
The state can do more to help our veterans gain access to their VA benefits but must overcome the challenge of reaching the many veterans who live far away from our larger cities. MVA will build upon an initiative passed by the 2019 Legislature that provides modest, yet crucial, state funding to those counties that choose to establish their own veterans service offices. Access to benefits is a right those that have served have earned. County Veteran Services Offices are designed as navigators and boots on the ground which uses county support and resources to serve military veteran families and connect them to benefits. and require the county support and resources to serve our military families. existing regional veterans service offices operated by the Veterans Affairs Division of the Department of Military Affairs are adequately funded and will encourage even closer partnerships with nongovernmental veteran service organizations. By leading and advocating for the coordination of state, county, and private resources, Montana Veterans Association (MVA) will continue to work hard for Montana veterans to have the opportunity to receive the federal benefits that they have earned.
Veterans Outdoor Recreation
Montana’s Outdoor Recreation industry brings in $7.1 billion in consumer spending and more than 71,000 jobs – the 2nd largest sector of the state’s economy. Montana Veterans and Military members enjoy recreating in Big Sky country, and we will work hard to advocate for multi-access opportunities for Veterans to our public lands as well as support established outdoor recreation programs for Veterans across our state. We will always advocate for public land access for our Veterans and special considerations for our Disabled Veterans.
Rural Broadband & Telemedicine for Montana Veterans
We want to increase broadband connectivity across Montana where over 70% of Montana Veterans reside as they increasingly rely on telemedicine services to receive health care treatment and appointments.
Tax Credits for Veterans & Military
We seek to increase the apprenticeship tax credit to $2,000 for Veterans to incentivize Montana employers to foster apprenticeship jobs and pursue a statewide initiative to formally recognize military skills and training as applicable to Montana vocations and workforce development.
Establish a Montana Veteran & Military Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Council
We will advocate for a Veteran and Military Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Council staffed with state, MTARNG, federal, local, VSO, VAO and Tribal stake holders to identify and track solutions to the mental health and suicide issues facing Montana Veterans.
Montana Military and Veteran Families:
Occupational licensing streamlining: Military Families and Veteran members have secured professional licenses in their previous state of residence. When being assigned to Montana (active duty) or returning to Montana after their spouse’s service, they are faced with a myriad of challenges to get their licensing for their occupation. Making this process more reciprocal between losing states and Montana will serve to welcome the military family members as well as the military member. MCA 37, Part 1, Chapters 3 and 4 cover professional licensure. Neither Chapter specifically refers to military spouses.
Elementary and Secondary School transition: Many students who follow their military parent (active component, guard, or reserve) into Montana find challenges to assimilate their curriculum from their losing school to a Montana gaining school. MCA 20-1-230, titled “Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children”, does not address children of National Guard or Reserve members. This policy should be amended to provide this protection for all military children.
(We want to thank Jim Peterson, Sam Redfern, Matt Amble, (ret.) General Stovall, Attorney General Tim Fox, Dr. Al Olszweski, Matt Pitzer, Roger Hagan, Jack Runeau and dozens of other Veterans, VAO’s, VSO’s and advocates for Veterans that weighed in on the MVA Policy Goals)