Tringe & Lunderville: It’s time to honor our military service members and pass H.255

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This commentary is by Heidi Tringe of Montpelier, a partner and multi-state practice lead at MMR, and an honorary commander in the Vermont Army Guard; and Neale Lunderville of South Burlington, president and CEO of VGS (Vermont Gas) and an honorary commander in the Vermont Air Guard.

When Vermont faces an acute crisis — floods, pandemics, national security events — our first thought is often: “Call out the Guard.” With a phone call from the governor, the women and men of the Vermont National Guard drop everything to help our beloved state in its time of greatest need. 

From Tropical Storm Irene to Covid-19, the Guard has been critical to Vermont’s response, relief and recovery efforts.

When our national leaders need some of the most well-trained and advanced units in the military — from specialized winter operations to advanced fighter missions — their first thought is often: “Put the Vermonters ahead.” Last summer, President Biden called on the Vermont Air National Guard to defend NATO airspace in the face of Russian hostilities in Ukraine.

Their selflessness is without question. Their courage sets the standard. But after their service to us, military retirees need our support. 

Vermont is one of only a few holdout states where military pensions are taxed. Don’t Vermont’s veterans deserve to have the same retirement benefits already awarded to retirees in 43 other states? 

The answer is an unequivocal yes. It’s long past time. We urge lawmakers to do right by our Guard members and pass H.597, an act relating to exempting military retirement and military survivor benefit income.

Let’s put their service in perspective. Guard members swear an oath and sign a contract for service as volunteers, agreeing to aid their states during crises and serve their country in times of war. Guard members are often asked to deploy to austere, challenging environments for anywhere from six months (Air Guard) to a year (Army Guard). 

Recent deployments have sent Guard members to the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, and southwest Asia. They leave their families behind, missing first steps and first words, birthdays and holidays, to face danger in foreign lands. Their service is not the same: Unlike any other profession, members of the armed forces and their family members must shoulder the unrelenting weight and worry that comes with a separation of months and miles.

On these deployments, there is no guarantee of returning home the same, or at all. For over 20 years, Vermont Guard members were deployed to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. They faced IED, mortar and rocket attacks. Sixteen members of the Vermont Army Guard were killed in action. The memories of their “Angel Flights” — caskets draped with the American flag — remain painfully fresh and never forgotten. 

The majority of Guard members are traditional drilling members, which means they are working a dual career track, either in civilian employment or students. Every Guard member is required to complete military education courses in conjunction with drill weekends and annual training throughout their career. They must stand ready to respond to emergencies on short notice. 

They do this while simultaneously preparing, training and deploying in support of their federal mission across the globe. The work of our Guard never ceases. 

As honorary commanders for the Vermont National Guard, we are paired with local units in the Air Guard and Army Guard to support their mission in the community. From our front-row seats, we witness the extraordinary dedication, ability and professionalism of the women and men of the Green Mountain Boys. 

With its inherent risk and personal sacrifice, service in our nation’s military has no equal. After a career defending our nation, military retirees and their survivors have earned the benefit of a tax-free retirement. 

If their service and sacrifice alone do not convince you, there’s an economic argument: Vermont is losing out on the many military retirees who are still of working age. They often make a financial decision to spend their post-military years in another state, where their retirement is not subject to taxes. 

As Vermont continues to face a workforce shortage, the help of these well-trained retirees would be a boost for the state. The tax loss is a pittance compared to the benefit of a thriving economy and vibrant communities.

As a state, we must express our gratitude for the women and men of the military with more than words. Let’s join the rest of the nation and pass H.255 to exempt military retirement and military survivor benefit income.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Tringe & Lunderville: It’s time to honor our military service members and pass H.255.

As Reported by VTDigger