BELL and PARE: North Carolina will always support our veterans

The American Flag flies on Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Every year on Nov. 11, we pause as Americans to celebrate Veterans Day and honor the brave men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform. For without their service and sacrifice, we would not have the freedoms and liberties that we hold so dear today.

In North Carolina, we pride ourselves as the “Nation’s Mostly Military Friendly State.” With eight military bases and nearly 642,000 veterans calling North Carolina home, we have a rich history of proudly supporting our veterans and military families.

As state legislators, we understand this special bond and the importance of the military to our local communities and the economic well-being of our entire state.

That’s why we have made it a priority this legislative session to advance legislation to further support our nation’s veterans and active-duty service members.

One of these bills, HB 370, The No Veteran Left Behind Act, creates a pilot project to help improve interactions between first responders and veterans in crisis.

Under the legislation, The Independence Fund, based in North Carolina will provide additional education and training for law enforcement so that a mental health emergency is not criminalized, but rather the situation is deescalated, and the veteran is connected with help and support.

Financially, the House passed HB 83 to eliminate the state-income tax on military retirement pay. Currently, thirty-two other states do not tax military retirement pay, which includes nine states that have zero state income tax. It is time for North Carolina to join the majority of other states who provide this tax relief to those who have sacrificed and served our great nation.

Another important aspect of supporting veterans is helping their families. HB 53 makes it easier for military families to qualify for in-state tuition by allowing high school seniors to remain eligible for the lower tuition rate even if their parents must move to another state due to military service.

For those deployed, HB 297 waives DMV penalties and fees of servicemembers if their registration expires while on deployment. It also provides deployed troops with the ability to convert their provisional license to a full license online.

With so many veterans calling North Carolina home, we have a duty to make sure that our state continues to support and honor those who have answered the call of duty.

To that point, HB 138 was approved and signed into law to recognize April 24th each year as “Wounded Heroes Day” in North Carolina. The date was chosen in honor of Union County’s Sgt. Michael Verardo who endured life changing injuries in Afghanistan on April 24, 2010.

On this Veterans Day, let us celebrate America’s true heroes and recommit ourselves to supporting the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, their families and all those who have served. We must never forget that we are the land of the free because of the brave.

John Bell is the North Carolina House Majority Leader. Erin Paré represents House District 37, which includes southern Wake County.