Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Jim Condos, veterans' advocates, lawmakers and others today highlighted programs to support Vermont's troops, including a voluntary check-off box on the Vermont State tax form, IN 111, to donate a dollar to the Vermont Veterans Fund (VFF).
The Veterans Fund was created in 2010 to provide financial assistance to organizations supporting veterans. Over the last three years, grants from the fund have supported homeless veteran transition programs, peer counseling, emergency assistance with rent and utilities, funeral honors for those who have passed on, and more. The fund has generated about $159,000 since its launch.
"This is a simple, effective way for Vermonters to thank our veterans and their families for the sacrifices they make in service to our state and our nation," said Gov. Shumlin.
"The VVF is a convenient way for Vermonters to support those who served on active duty in the United States armed forces or the Vermont National Guard," said Gary DeGasta, Chairperson of the Vermont Governor's Advisory Council and member of the VVF Committee.
DeGasta said funds are paid out in the form of grants based on the recommendations of a nine-member committee representing organizations that provide services and/or advocate for veterans. The donations help to strengthen existing veterans' programs, as well as fund innovative new veterans' programs and services, he said.
In addition, the Governor and Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry announced that the Department is asking lawmakers to lower the disability threshold for veterans to obtain a free hunting or fishing license, increasing the number of vets eligible under the program. Currently, veterans must be certified to be 100 percent disabled in order to be eligible for a free hunting or fishing license. The federal threshold to be eligible for disability benefits is 60 percent. The Fish and Wildlife Department recommends reducing the disability requirement to 60 percent, which will also be in line with the practice in neighboring states.
Upon receipt of a compensation letter from the VA declaring that a veteran has a 100 percent service-connected disability that is permanent, or a letter that declares the veteran meets the criteria in Vermont statute that makes them eligible, a permanent license is issued. The level of impairment to be considered 100 percent disabled means that few people ever receive complimentary licenses. In 2012 and 2013, 77 licenses were issued.
"It is our responsibility to honor the men and women who have sacrificed so much on behalf of our security and freedom," said Commissioner Berry. "Offering a complimentary hunting and fishing license to our disabled veterans so that they can enjoy our tremendous fish and wildlife resources is the least we can do."
The Vermont Department of Labor and other groups committed to veterans' issues, coming off a meeting of more than 30 people last month, is implementing changes that include increasing apprenticeship programs for veterans, offering free courses at the Community College of Vermont to veterans, expanding the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program for veterans, sharing job leads and training openings, increasing and coordinating veterans job fairs in every area of the state, lobbying to expand the educational program options paid for by the GI Bill, engaging the Tech Ed Centers to create specific programs for veterans, and more.
In addition, Secretary of State Jim Condos is supporting legislation to require the Office of Professional Regulation to create an expedited process for issuing licenses to members of the Armed Forces.
"This bill does two important things: It allows members of the military to get credit for training they have already received instead of having to repeat the same training through civilian courses and it supports military spouses whose careers have been relocated because of their family's service to their country," Secretary of State Condos said. "This is why my office is making this bill a priority and why I am urging legislators to support quick passage of this bill."
Gov. Shumlin said he appreciates the commitment being focused on Vermont's veterans and their families.
The Governor said that while we'd like to do more for veterans, he added, "Today's announcement shows a real commitment from a broad group -- including higher education, government, the Legislature, the Secretary of State's office, businesses -- to help them get the education, work skills and good paying jobs here at home that they have earned through their service to our country."
Please note: In addition to the tax check-off for the Vermont Veterans Fund, donations can also be made at any time by sending a check made out to the Vermont Veteran's Fund to the Office of Veterans Affairs, 118 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620-4401. Donations are tax deductible, whether made directly or through the state income tax return. A committee representing the Governor's Veterans Advisory Council, Veteran Service Organizations, VA Medical and Benefits, the National Guard, Vermont Department of Labor and Agency of Human Services review all applications in early summer and make grants.
In addition, the Tax Department's form offers a check off option for the Nongame Wildlife Fund (which raised almost $86,000 last year) and the Children's Trust Fund (which raised just over $64,000 last year). These donations are deductible on next year's federal tax return as a charitable contribution.
Vermont Children's Trust Fund
Keep Vermont a great place to raise kids. Support community-based
prevention programs for children, including after-school
care, parenting education, teen leadership, literacy programs,
preschool programs and substance abuse prevention.
Visit www.vtchildrenstrust.org or call (888) 475-5437
Vermont Nongame Wildlife Fund
Preserve Vermont's wildlife heritage that makes our state a
beautiful and special place to live and adds quality to our lives.
Your gift helps protect and restore Vermont's endangered wildlife
including bald eagles, turtles, butterflies, and bats.
Item 29a on your tax form Visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com or call (802) 241-3700
Vermont Veterans Fund
Help Vermont's nearly 60,000 honorably discharged veterans.
The fund provides aid to veterans who are homeless, need long-term
care or transportation. It also helps veterans apply for
benefits and supports recognition programs.
Item 29c on your tax form Visit www.veterans.vermont.gov or call (802) 828-3379