Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Md.-28) now serves residents of the 28th district, but prior to his time in office he wore a uniform as a member of the U.S. Air Force. His duties included the telecommunications computer programming field, earning him a commendation medal for his contributions in 1989. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Md.-28))

By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
tmcqueen@afro.com

As Maryland recognizes its veterans for their service to the state and the nation, it is important to highlight what work is being done to support veterans on the legislative level. 

Legislative support means creation of laws and funding that help uphold or initiate aid for Maryland’s veterans and their families. 

“We’ve got great champions in the legislature. We work alongside them and generate ideas with one another,” said Anthony Woods, secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA). “I’m excited about going into this upcoming general assembly in January because there’s a number of areas that we can work on together.”

According to the MDVA, the office was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1999 to assist active duty members, veterans and their families in accessing earned military service benefits.

Maryland legislators and Gov. Wes Moore respectively passed and signed over ten pieces of legislation into law during the 2023 Maryland General Assembly session in support of Maryland’s veterans. 

These pieces of legislation include The Keep Our Heroes Home Act, Income Tax Check-Off and 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion Day.

Shown here, Retired Maj. Nick Charles Sr. (left) with his son, Del. Nick Charles II (D-Md.-25). Delegate Charles served in the U.S. Air Force from 2001-2006, earning two Air Force Achievement Medals, and his father served in the U.S. Army. (Photo courtesy of Del. Nick Charles II (D-Md.-25))

“The Keep Our Heroes Home Act increased the tax exemption for military retired pay,” said Woods. “The thinking here is that by making our state more competitive from a tax perspective. We’ll encourage retiring members of the military to stay and have their second career here in the state, which is a huge benefit to us.”

The legislation increased the exemption to the first $20,000 of military retirement pay for those over 55 years old and increased the exemption to $12,500 if you’re under 55 years old. This law went into effect on July 1.

Woods said that the income tax write-off legislation increased the ways in which Marylanders can donate to the Maryland Veterans Trust Fund, which the MDVA operates.

“This fund provides small, one-time grants to individual veterans,” said Woods. “Those grants are often used to help bring veterans back in good standing with their mortgage provider, landlord,  rental company, utilities, etc.” 

The tax write-off bill went into effect on July 1.

Through the 2023 state legislative session, the Maryland government now recognizes March 9 as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion Day.

“Partners in the legislature helped to champion a bill that chooses a day to commemorate the  6888th , which was an all-female postal battalion of mostly Black women,” said Woods. “I was really excited about this one in particular because many people don’t realize or consider themselves to be veterans when they’ve earned that title just as anyone else has.”

Del. Michael J. Rogers (D-Md.-32) is now a Maryland legislator where he continues to provide services to our nation after a 29 year career in the U.S. Army. He earned many awards and medals in his time, such as the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Global War Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the United Nations Medal. (Photo courtesy of Del. Michael J. Rogers (D-Md.-32))

“When we do more to highlight diverse stories of service it really does go a long way in making sure veterans see themselves reflected in what it means to be a veteran,” said Woods. “Hopefully then, they can take advantage of benefits that really have a positive impact on their lives.”

The MDVA through Secretary Anthony Woods championed these bills directly during the 2023 Maryland General Assembly session and will continue to do so during the 2024 session.

“You’ll see us make a push on troubles that Military families experience,” said Woods about the next session. “You’ll see us also take a much closer look at addressing issues of fraud perpetrated against veterans and we’ll do that in partnership with members of the legislature.”

Woods said an additional goal for the next session includes reaffirming the state’s commitment to ending suicide among veterans and their families.

Go to veterans.maryland.gov or visit one of MDVA’s offices to get help acquiring these recently implemented resources and more. 

“Come ready to tell your story,” said Woods.