Funding for veterans homes included in state budget

[Editor’s note: At our request, Sen. Mark Norris provided comments on recent legislative work on behalf of veterans.]

columnist--mug-shot-mark-norris-2017I continue to serve as chairman of the Veterans Oversight Subcommittee of State and Local Government. I was honored to receive the Department of Defense Certificate of Appreciation “for leadership on public policy changes positively impacting the quality of life of Service members and their families residing in Tennessee during the 2017 Legislative Session.”

It was a big year for veterans and active military. Funding in the amount of $18 million for the new Veterans Home in Shelby County was included in this year’s budget, which I carried.

The federal budget doesn’t yet include sufficient funding for all of the homes needed nationwide so it may be some time before we can be approved for construction, and it’s essential that we continue local fundraising to assure adequate resources once federal funding is assured.

I amended Gov. Haslam’s Improve Act to provide full property tax relief for veterans and disabled, which will provide about $18 million in tax relief to some 12,000 veterans per year.

I sponsored and enacted the STRONG Act to provide free tuition to active National Guardsmen.

The Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act provides eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition funding toward a first-time bachelor’s degree for the next four years through a tuition reimbursement program.

The STRONG Act provides educational opportunities for those who protect and serve our state and country, and it supports the Drive to 55 goal of equipping 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate by 2025.

My VETS Act (Veterans Education Transition Support), originally enacted in 2014, established a program of recognition for higher education institutions which allocate resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.

An institution receiving VETS Campus certification not only prioritizes outreach to veterans, but also successfully delivers the services necessary to create a supportive environment where student veterans can prosper while pursuing their education.

This year, in October, we recognized our 23rd Vets campus at Cleveland State.

I updated and enhanced the VETS Act this year to provide in-state tuition for veterans and a new web-based dashboard to help prospective student veterans determine how their military training counts.

Now, a veteran or service member will be able to click on the specific military occupational specialty he or she possesses and instantly see what academic credit he or she qualifies for at each of Tennessee’s public institutions, before enrollment. This easy-to-use system will help us recruit and keep military service members in Tennessee.

The amendment also calls on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to select representatives of various state colleges and universities by December 2018 to work collaboratively in adopting policies for Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) for veterans. Currently, PLA credit can vary significantly from one institution to the next. The group will identify and develop uniform methods to assess and maximize academic credit for veterans based on the experience, education and training obtained during their military service.

All-in-all, a big year of landmark legislation for the men and women of our military – active as well as veterans. I’ve worked hard to make Tennessee the best state in the nation for veterans because they worked hard to keep us safe, and I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

SEN. MARK NORRIS, Senate Majority Leader, can be reached at (615) 741-1967 or via email to