Military's quality of life should be made better

info@islandpacket.comMay 24, 2013 

When the federal government takes up the next round of military base realignment and closures -- a process that could begin as soon as 2015 -- national security interests should determine which installations remain open and which ones close.

Still, the Department of Defense strongly advocates 10 pieces of state legislation to improve military quality of life and suggests they will become criteria.

As coercive as this is, it's difficult to argue with the Defense Department's goals, particularly those that help military personnel and their families get a good education. As such, our local legislative delegation is doing the right thing by pushing through these measures.

South Carolina has some catching up to do to keep up with its neighbors. Virginia leads states in the region with seven of the 10 laws in place. Florida has adopted six, North Carolina five and Georgia four. South Carolina? Just three so far.

That could change soon. Three more incentives on the list are working their way through the General Assembly, apparently with enough momentum to pass.

The three quality-of-life bills already signed into law are designed to improve absentee voting, increase protections for military personnel against predatory lending, and ease rules for military spouses transferring professional licenses from other states.

Three more appear headed toward passage:

  • Granting licensing and academic credit for military training.

  • Eliminating the one-year waiting time for in-state tuition for service members leaving the military.

  • Establishing veterans' treatment courts in each county. The aim is to steer veterans charged with nonviolent offenses away from jail and into care and counseling for their underlying conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Also on the Defense Department list are granting in-state college tuition, transferring training certification and property-tax relief for military personnel.

    State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he and fellow members of the S.C. Military Base Task Force were working to introduce the four remaining bills by the beginning of June.

    William "Dutch" Holland, the task force's executive coordinator, noted that most wouldn't cost the state anything. "They are really about quality of life," he said.

    No doubt, some of the scurrying in Columbia is based on economic interest as much as it is concern for national security. The military pumps about $15.7 billion into the state's economy each year, according to one estimate. Locally, the economic impact is almost $1.4 billion and "rivals the impact Hilton Head's tourism industry has on the local economy," said state Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, who was chairman of the Beaufort County Council during the last round of base closures in 2006.

    Economic interests aside, a good argument can be made that Beaufort County's three installations -- Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Naval Hospital Beaufort -- are critical to keeping the United States safe.

    Parris Island is the only Marine Corps training depot on the East Coast. The air station is to be a training hub for the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter jet, and its proximity to a bombing range in Townsend, Ga., means it can provide that training economically.

    With so much to recommend Beaufort's bases already, it only makes sense to shore up the case for keeping them open by approving inducements that seem to come at minimal cost.

    Besides, there is an additional benefit to doing so: Well-educated military families can become productive civilians who help other sectors of the economy after service members retire from active duty.

    With so much on the line and benefits beyond keeping our military bases open, lawmakers are encouraged to march double-time to get the recommended incentives passed.

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