What does it take to become the most veteran-friendly state in the nation? Just follow Florida’s example.
At least that’s what Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan advocacy group on how taxpayer money is spent, is sharing as the state honors its veterans.
“Florida is proud of the brave servicemen and women who have chosen to build their lives and raise their families in the Sunshine State,” Dominic Calabro, president and chief executive of Florida TaxWatch, said in a release. “Our Legislature and Florida’s governor have recognized the importance of giving back to those who have sacrificed for us, and their commitment has resulted in Florida becoming the most veteran-friendly state in America.”
Florida does have 1.6 million vets living here, accounting for one in every 12 adult veterans. That includes 250,000 disabled veterans, both the third-largest nationally. Florida also has more World War II vets than any other state, and almost half of its veterans are older than 65.
So what makes Florida so special when it comes to veterans?
It all starts with the Florida “G.I. Bill,” Calabro said. That includes a number of veteran-friendly services like property tax exemptions, reductions in professional license fees, education benefits, obtaining driver’s licenses, and employment.
Property Tax Exemptions
A veteran with at least a 10 percent service-connected disability may be entitled to a $5,000 exemption on any property he or she owns. Those with service-connected total and permanent disability, or are confined to a wheelchair, could qualify for total homestead exemption — a benefit that also can carry over to the surviving spouse.
Veterans who are disabled, older than 64, and owns homestead property may qualify for a property tax discount based on their percentage of disability.
Current or former members of the military, reserves, U.S. Coast Guard or Florida National Guard, may receive an exemption for his or her homestead if deployed during the last calendar year outside of the United States. The exemption is equal to the percentage of the year the person was deployed.
The Fallen Heroes Family Tax Relief Act allows a surviving spouse of a veteran — as well as first responders — who died from service-connected causes to be granted a total exemption on their home. Also, any person serving in the U.S. Armed Forces may rent the homestead without abandoning the claim to the homestead exemption.
Professional License Fees
Fees related to professional licensing may be waived for veterans who have been honorably discharged within 60 months prior to applying for the license. Spouses also qualify for the waiver.
Also, members of the military, spouses and veterans who have retired within 24 months who apply for a professional license in the insurance industry are exempt from the application filing fee.
Out-0f-state fees are waived for honorably discharged veterans who attend a state college, state university, career center, or charter technical career center. Also, $1.5 million is provided annually to fund tuition scholarships and book stipends for Florida National Guard members that participate in the Educational Dollars for Duty program.
Florida also waives undergraduate-level tuition at state universities and community colleges for Florida recipients of the Purple Heart and other combat-related decorations. Tuition benefits also are provided for dependent children and spouses of deceased or totally disabled veterans and children of service members who are missing in action or prisoners of war.
Military members who are on active duty outside Florida — and their dependents — receive an automatic extension of their driver’s license without re-examination.
Non-resident active duty military service members stationed in Florida are exempt from the requirements to obtain a Florida driver’s license when his or her children enter a Florida public school. The service member’s spouse also is exempt if the spouse begins employment, or enrolls in a school in the state.
All government employers in Florida are required to grant employment preference in hiring and retention to veterans, spouses, parents and legal guardians, as well as National Guard members and the U.S. Reserve Forces. Private sector employers are authorized, but not required, to establish a veterans preference process for honorably discharged veterans and certain spouses.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity offers a range of services to veterans including recruitment, training grants, and links to federal programs offering certain employer incentives for hiring veterans. The Hiring Florida’s Heroes initiative works with employers to connect them with veterans possessing needed skills.
The newly created Veterans Employment and Training Services, or VETS, program will help connect veterans and employers, and will contract with at least one university to administer entrepreneurship initiative programs for veterans. It also creates a grant program for businesses to provide funding for training veterans to meet a business’s work force-skill needs.
For more on Florida TaxWatch, visit FloridaTaxWatch.org.