RALEIGH — Lt. Gov. Dan Forest says he wants to help active military and veterans lay down roots in North Carolina. The Republican candidate for Governor recently unveiled a plan to make the state the most military-friendly in the country.
There are currently around 100,000 active duty military members and 670,000 veterans who reside in the Tarheel state.
“A lot of people run around and claim every day – the governor does it all the time – that North Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the country, and that sounds good, but it’s really not true,” Forest told NSJ.
Forest said his team, including Col. (Ret.) Ron Rabin, who is chairman of Veterans for Dan Forest, came up with a list after meeting with military families and veterans from around the state.
“We know it will take a lot of work to get there,” said Rabon, who served three terms as a state Senator. “We want to set the right goals and objectives to do that in a very pragmatic way.”
The Forest campaign’s plan has three main focal points: supporting military families, transitioning to civilian life and building a career in North Carolina.
“This gives them another leg-up to deal with the challenges they face as they come back into civilian life,” said Forest.
Easing financial burden on military families — from education to property taxes — is the first step according to Forest. He says his plan will help children of military members to keep up in school, despite frequent moves, through an education savings account. The program would grant to $4,200 for expenses such as tutoring, new supplies or tuition at private schools in the state.
Another way Forest’s plan would ease financial burdens is by eliminating the current law requiring military members to pay North Carolina income tax while stationed out of state.
To ease transition back to civilian life, the plan would seek to waive the first year of property taxes for those returning to civilian life, which is on average would be around $1,200.
Additionally, Forest seeks to eliminate the state income tax on veteran retirement benefits and create three new Veterans Treatment Courts, which are courts set up to help veterans receive support services and treatment rather than punishment for criminal activity as a result of PTSD, alcohol or drug addiction
Around 3,000 counties in the U.S. have Veteran Treatment Courts, but only four counties in North Carolina have such courts. Forest’s plan proposes adding courts in Jacksonville, Raleigh, and Charlotte.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are almost 200,000 veterans incarcerated in American prisons and jails.
Forest says that his policy proposals will help veterans and their families build careers here in North Carolina through two programs, Troops2Troopers and a Helping Heroes Bonus.
Troops2Troopers will pay for Basic Law Enforcement Training for military members who have returned to civilian life and offers recruits who complete training and pledge five years of service a signing bonus of $10,000.
“We think that will go a long way, on both sides, by helping our active duty transition to civilian life and helping with the needs of our community by filling law enforcement positions that are much needed right now,” Forest said.
The Helping Heroes Bonus program offers a $2,500 incentive to businesses to hire and train apprentices when military members leave active service.
Rabin said former military members will have a “prime place” where the state can find skilled people to enhance the state’s businesses and workforce.
As a 24-year army veteran, Rabin said he wants people to know “that Dan Forest is truly interested and determined to take care of the military that are here in this state.”
Forest who sits on the state’s Military Affairs Commission, said that under former Gov. Pat McCrory, the commission helped to direct policy, but under Gov. Roy Cooper, that hasn’t been the case.
“There will be a lot more that comes down the road,” said Forest of his military and veteran plans. “We’ll be broadening it out and developing it more over time.”