by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
For the last 90 years, North Carolina has been providing support and assistance to veterans and their families. In response to World War I, the General Assembly established the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs (NCDVA) as part of the Commission of Labor in 1925. After the Second World War, the NCDVA became a stand-alone agency to assist veterans and their families in securing benefits earned through military service. About twenty years later in 1967, the Department of Administration assumed all responsibility for the NCDVA. Today, North Carolina has the ninth largest veteran population in the country and is home to approximately 770,000 veterans residing in every county across the state.
Many of the programs that support veterans in North Carolina are federally established and financed, but lawmakers have created state-based programs over the years to complement the services offered by the federal government. In FY 2013, North Carolina received $7.3 billion in veteran-related expenditures.
While the federal government pays much of the cost for veterans services, there are also many programs that receive funding through the state or private sources in North Carolina. In 2014, the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division published a report that inventoried state programs and services available to veterans and their families. This report is the only known published summary of state programs and efforts for veterans. In fiscal year 2013-14 there were 23 state sponsored or supported programs for veterans at a total cost of $157.3 million.
Veterans programs fall into two major categories — veteran-only and veteran-targeted. There are eleven veteran-only programs, that is, programs where veterans and their families make up 100 percent of the participants. These programs spend around $54 million and serve around 71,000 veterans. There are twelve veteran-targeted programs, with veteran status as one, but not the only, avenue for eligibility. These programs serve over 20,000 veterans and their families. As such, the $103 million expenditure for veteran-targeted programs is not spent solely on the veterans within these programs. Moreover, these programs do not reside in one area of state government, but are found in 10 state entities: the departments of Administration, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Public Instruction, Public Safety, and State Treasurer; the NC Community College System; the NC Housing Finance Agency; the University of North Carolina system; and the Wildlife Resources Commission.
The inventory by the Program Evaluation Division gives us the most accurate picture of how much is spent on veterans and their families in North Carolina, but the total amount is still unknown. Veteran-targeted programs do not track expenditures specific to veterans, so the inventory had to include the amount spent for entire programs, which may include expenditures for civilians.
In 2011, the General Assembly passed a law aimed at improving the behavioral health of veterans and their families by directing state agencies to coordinate programs, services, research, and grant dollars. An effort to bring together agencies serving all veterans was not made until 2014, when Governor McCrory created an interagency working group to increase collaboration and coordination among veterans programs across the state.
As proposed by NC GEAR, the governor’s 2015- 17 biennial budget recommendations include the establishment of a new cabinet-level agency, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. But unlike other departments that house programs to serve a specific constituency, this new department would not house all the state’s programs for veterans. It would pull together Veterans Affairs and the State Veterans Home Program from the Department of Administration, the Joint Land Use Study and Base Relocation and Closure (BRAC) programs from the Department of Commerce, and the Military Advisor and Assistant positions from the Governor’s Office. The Department would essentially replace the Division of Veterans Affairs as the overseer of all veterans service activities. This would leave functions like pensions, education, and medical programs outside the new department.
Veterans programs, on the other hand, have been housed within the Department of Administration for nearly half a century. There have been few systemic problems with the core functions or missions of the many programs that serve North Carolina’s veterans and their families. While the state could improve efficiency in some of its veterans programs, there is no compelling reason to create a new department.
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