(WTRF) – Why not West Virginia?

It’s a question that’s been tossed around when talking about how to grow the state’s population. 

While there are different ways to do that, Governor Jim Justice proposed a $5,000 dollar incentive to any veteran who wants to move to the Mountain State. 

But, is it enough to draw them here?

There are times when we’ve looked at it and thought this was a big mistake. I don’t want people to feel that way about West Virginia.

Danielle Harmon, Veteran

Danielle Harmon is a 24-year veteran of the Air Force who moved from Colorado to West Virginia. She came to the Mountain State for family, but said she lost a lot of veteran-friendly amenities in the process. 

Now, she’s advocating for the Mountain State to do more. 

No one is going to move here if we don’t have the infrastructure available to provide affordable and reliable broadband, roads that aren’t gonna ruin our vehicles, schools that are top-notch.

Danielle Harmon, Veteran

Her main concern for women veterans.

According to VA statistics, there are about 10,000 female veterans in West Virginia. Harmon said they need things like special outreach, access to trauma counseling, updated OB/GYN care and female Veteran Service Officers.

Women veterans in states with low veteran populations tend to feel more isolated and that is a risk factor when you’re talking about mental illness and suicide, so we need to do more of that type of outreach.

Danielle Harmon, Veteran

Harmon also has other suggestions for all veterans that she’s shared with officials about what makes a state veteran-friendly. Her list includes diversity, tax breaks on personal property tax, education credits, hiring preferences and perks like free hunting and fishing licenses.

However, she did praise West Virginia for not taxing military retirement.

Many of her concerns are echoed by lawmakers and other advocates. 

The tax credit for employers hiring a veteran only applies to veterans of the war in Vietnam and the Korean War, so that’s how long since it’s been updated. So, let’s update that and make it much more reflective of who is looking for jobs in today’s economy.

State Senator Ryan Weld, (R) Majority Whip, Senate Military Committee Chair

State Senator Ryan Weld said he began work on making West Virginia more veteran friendly early last year after there were major proposed cuts to VA medical facilities in the state. At the time, the VA said decreasing numbers of veterans in the state were the reason. So, Weld thought what can we do to increase those numbers?

Among the other issues that are important to veterans, Weld cited licensing as an issue. 

For example, in some cases, if a person does a certain job in the military, why can’t their skills transfer to civilian life without additional education?

Why should they move to West Virginia and then have to go through that whole licensing program just to do the job that they’re doing? How can we make that an easier transition for them?

State Senator Ryan Weld, (R) Majority Whip, Senate Military Committee Chair

Weld said there is package of bills and resolutions going through the legislature this year that will help with some of the issues facing veterans. 

Veterans who have a 90% or greater rating from the VA for their service-related disability, they wouldn’t have to pay their property taxes in the state.

State Senator Ryan Weld, (R) Majority Whip, Senate Military Committee Chair

Weld also added that mortgage programs, which would be in addition to VA home loans, could also be attractive to veterans who are exploring living in West Virginia.

Jeremy Harrison, the co-founder of the Ohio Valley non-profit Helping Heroes, said he would like the state to consider more tax breaks for veterans. 

Income tax as an example. There are states where veterans don’t have to pay income tax. Or, if they have a certain disability percentage they don’t have to pay disability taxes.

Jeremy Harrison, Co-Founder, Helping Heroes

Harrison is also part of the Northern Panhandle Veterans Council, which makes it a point to talk with state lawmakers and those who represent West Virginia in Washington D.C. to make sure area veterans have a voice.

The veterans council has been pushing a lot of issues and they (the legislature) are listening. The Governor is listening.

Jeremy Harrison, Co-Founder, Helping Heroes

He also said a very common issue is access to Veteran Service Officers (VSO) who assist with benefits. It’s critical for veterans and their families to be taken care of.

For example, in Ohio and Pennsylvania they have veteran service officers in each county. In West Virginia it’s by region. So, we have two individuals that have to cover the entire Northern Panhandle, which makes it difficult for everyone.

Jeremy Harrison, Co-Founder, Helping Heroes

This is a major concern for Harmon as well. She said female veterans need women as their VSO.

Harrison also mentioned a bill that was passed during the 2022 legislative session that could make a big difference for West Virginia veterans. It created partnerships and funding for at-risk veterans to help with suicide prevention. According to Harrison, 44 veterans a day commit suicide. It’s a number that’s drastically increased in recent years.

West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle is a driving distance to Washington D.C. and the Northern Panhandle has National Guard Units plus access to Pittsburgh, making the Mountain State an ideal location for veterans or even active-duty military. 

All parties agree, while there’s work to do, West Virginia is making progress. 

No one single thing is going to do the trick, but add it up and I think it could make a difference. 

State Senator Ryan Weld, (R) Majority Whip, Senate Military Committee Chair

7News did some research to see any bills or resolutions that impact veterans in West Virginia have been introduced during this legislative session. According to the West Virginia Legislature’s website, here are some that we found with a short description.

  • Senate Bill 283 – Relating to Military Incentive Program – It would amend the Code of West Virginia to extend the Military Incentive Program for preferential employment treatment to all veterans
  • Senate Bill 173 – Establishing Program to Pay Monthly Allotment to Certain Veterans – It would establish a program that pays $150 monthly to all veterans who are 65-years or older, who served on active duty during a period of war, who are currently not receiving a Federal Veterans Administration check for disability or retirement and were honorably discharged
  • Senate Joint Resolution 2 – Disabled Veterans’ Exemption from Ad Valorem Property Taxation Amendment – Proposes an amendment to the West Virginia constitution to exempt veterans who are awarded a 90% or greater service-connected disability from paying property taxes
  • House Bill 2211 – Award Military Veterans with a “Veterans” License Plate – It would exempt any honorably discharged veteran of any branch from the registration payments, except for a special initial $10 fee
  • House Bill 2438 – Authorizing long term care facilities to increase their number of beds on certificate of need by 5% so long as those beds are filled by veterans
  • House Bill 2450 – Relating to tax credit for disabled veterans for lifetime hunting, trapping and fishing license
  • House Bill 2532 – Creating a liaison program with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs Transition Assistance Program – The program would inform retiring service members of incentives of relocating to West Virginia upon their discharge.
  • House Bill 2583 – Veterans’ Welcome Home Grant – Establishes a grant to assist military service members and discharged veterans with relocation costs
  • House Bill 2584 – Allow homestead exemptions for disabled veterans – It would allow a homestead property tax exemption for veterans who are owners or partial owners and have a 100% service-connected disability
  • House Bill 2774 – Welcome Home Grant Program – It would create a program administered by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to provide cash grants to assist veterans in relocating themselves and their families to West Virginia.
  • House Bill 2794 – To create a special license plate for 100% disabled veterans

We will continue to track the latest from the West Virginia Legislature, so stay with 7News for any updates.