by Bethany Blankley
Calling Florida the “most veteran-friendly state,” Gov. Ron DeSantis says state agencies and partners are committed to caring for its 1.5 million veterans through a range of programs and resources. Throughout Military Family Appreciation Month, Attorney General Ashley Moody is also highlighting the state’s efforts to protect them from scams targeting those in the military.
“Florida’s veterans have made countless sacrifices to protect our freedoms, and in return we are working hard to ensure they have the resources and support they need to be successful and take care of their families,” DeSantis said. “My administration will continue to invest in our veterans in the same way that they made sacrifices to invest in the freedom of our nation.”
DeSantis, who was resoundingly reelected to his second term, is one of only seven governors who’s a U.S. veteran. Moody’s eldest son is serving in the U.S. Army.
Florida has the third largest veteran’s population behind California and Texas.
Retired Marine Corps Major General James Hartsell, who leads the state’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs, says Florida “offers unique benefits for its veterans,” including in-state tuition rates for veterans and their families, “several layers of property tax exemptions, expanded veterans’ preference, and extensive benefits, licensure and fee waivers for many activities and occupations.”
The state in the last few years has prioritized new and/or expanded programs to help active-duty service members and veterans.
One includes the Hometown Heroes Housing Program, which provides down payment and closing cost assistance to first-time, income-qualified home buyers. It’s recently helped 581 active military, veterans or surviving spouses purchase a home, or 36% of all finalized loans administered through the program.
Through a separate program, DeSantis also recently awarded $1.5 million to provide transitional housing for Floridians and veterans recovering from substance abuse through the Recovery Housing Program.
A new initiative launched last year through the state Department of Education enables qualified veterans to obtain a temporary teaching certificate while they earn their bachelor’s degree. Veterans can apply to the program through a new website.
DeSantis also said the legislature would consider an expanded recruitment initiative next year to hire retired military veterans and first responders as teachers.
Another new program, Continue the Mission, launched by First Lady Casey DeSantis, recruits veterans and military spouses to be child protective investigators, mentors, and case managers. Since it launched in June 2022, dozens of job fairs have been held for veterans with more than 450 people applying to participate in the program.
“This initiative is an incredible opportunity to introduce our veterans, their spouses and retired law enforcement to the many rewarding career paths that are available to protect and serve Florida’s children,” the First Lady said in October when the program expanded. “We hope these opportunities provide a continued sense of purpose for those who have already done so much for our great communities, state and nation.”
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is also assisting Florida’s military community by waiving professional licensing fees for active duty military, veterans and their spouses and expediting professional license applications submitted by active-duty military members’ spouses.
The Florida Department of Health is also expediting licensing for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses applying for licenses in all health care professions. Most who apply through an online VALOR process receive fee waivers.
DOH is also renewing exemptions for active-duty service members holding a Florida health care license and temporary licensure for spouses of active-duty service members with a valid license in another state or territory.
Veterans Florida, a non-profit created by the state, is assisting veterans and their families with transition to civilian life with career and entrepreneurship opportunities through its Veterans Employment and Training Services Program. Its executive director Joe Marino said it’s “the state’s largest creator of veteran-owned businesses, and our first-in-the-nation statewide SkillBridge initiative is a model for other states.”
Other employment resources are available through Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, including through the Paychecks for Patriots program and the Military Family Employment Advocacy Program. Both are being highlighted throughout the month to support spouses and dependents. DEO is also administering Florida’s Law Enforcement Recruitment Bonus Payment Program, which awards a $5,000 bonus to newly employed sworn law enforcement officers, including veterans.
DEO is also hosting its annual Florida Veterans Workforce Summit November 15-18 to provide statewide training about the Jobs for Veterans’ State Grant. This prepares Local Workforce Development Board staff to support veterans, transitioning service members, and eligible spouses.
Moody’s office also created the Military and Veterans Assistance Program to help protect military members, veterans and their families from scams targeting them, including a brochure to alert them about emerging military-related scams and a Military Consumer Protection Guide.
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