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Viewpoint: Delaware can do more to attract veteran workforce

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Charles W. Baldwin

Veterans who live in Delaware are fortunate to have a strong ally in our business community, which hires and actively seeks out veterans, recognizing the strong skill sets they bring to the workplace. Loyalty, dedication, integrity, work ethic, and team building are learned behavior serving in the military and honed throughout our tenure. But seldom does a week pass by where we don’t receive the request, “How do I hire more veterans?” 

The answer is simple: In order to hire more veterans, we have to attract more veterans. Currently the numbers indicate that few veterans are relocating to the First State. We need to sell our state, offer more, and compete better. Veterans do not look for a handout, only a safe and affordable community where they may continue to contribute.

Delaware has been the home to many bankers and scientists for years. Though many positions still exist in these fields, it is not to the extent of the past few decades. Logistics, cybersecurity, technology repair, heavy equipment operators/mechanics, and building trades are some of the industries in continuous search to strengthen their workforce. Additionally, the expansion of the Port of Wilmington will require workers with skills as loadmasters and longshoremen as well as many operation-related services for receiving and shipping product via the sea lanes. All are excellent paying jobs offering career advancement opportunities.

So how do we recruit and attract highly qualified veterans to Delaware? Why are less than 6% of young men and women leaving the Air Force in Dover considering Delaware as their destination for homesteading? Much of it has to do with what we call a veteran-friendly environment. Are we unfriendly? No, not by any means. But Delaware can and should be doing more.

1. Provide benefits for disabled veterans. Currently Delaware is the only state with no legislation in regard to 100% disabled veterans. Military service members with 100% disability have paid their fair share. Why should they pay school and property taxes? In many states they are exempt. The Veterans Commission has been trying to change this in Delaware. Last year we had a bill written for tax exemption, it went through the entire process and was in line to be voted upon when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The bill’s sponsors indicated it was too hard to have it passed as everyone was working from home, but we expect it to be considered in the 2021 General Assembly.

2. Provide relief for military pensions. A 37-year-old veteran leaving the military who settles in Delaware must pay state tax on their pension. While veterans qualify for a tax deduction on a portion of their pension at age 60, as all citizens do, younger veterans may pay that income tax for 20 or more years. We are one of 21 states continuing this practice and it is the primary reason veterans are flocking to Texas, Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, to name a few that exempt military pensions, accepting jobs and pouring money into their economies.

3. Create a clearinghouse. The Virginia Values Veterans Program is a model we may wish to emulate in Delaware. One of many initiatives throughout the country, it provides a one-stop shop that includes the military Transition Assistance Program for veterans, local college representatives who review military transcripts and award credits standardized for all schools. Over 200 community colleges in Virginia have agreed to accept credit recommendations. Additionally, Virginia’s labor department maintains an office to meet with veterans to facilitate journeyman certification
or provide onsite classes to earn trade licenses.

Businesses also pay the program to hold onsite job fairs at the Virginia center, and the state rewards those companies hiring veterans with various benefits. Amazon has indicated that they hire 80 veterans monthly through the program. Simply modifying and adapting best practices from states that are winning the veteran recruitment battle would go a long way to solving the qualified employee situation.

Changes to Delaware’s veteran profile need to be part of the conversation. Bold initiatives require leadership. Veterans need your help to make this happen. We have had little success making our case to the legislature and ask you to add your powerful voice as our ally. 

Charles Baldwin serves as chairman of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs.

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