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TRENTON – Two pieces of legislation sponsored by Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jim Beach and Senator Fred Madden to support Gold Star families throughout New Jersey cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“We owe it to our fallen heroes to honor their families, and that is the goal of this package of legislation,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington, Camden). “Providing our Gold Star families, whose loved ones lost their lives serving our country, with the resources they need is an expression of gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice they made. These bills aim to provide meaningful resources for family members who are dealing with the pain following the untimely death of a loved one will allow them to lead healthier lives, both emotionally and physically.”

A Gold Star family member is defined as a parent, spouse, domestic or civil union partner, sibling, child, legal guardian, or other legal custodian, whole or half blood or by adoption, of a service member killed while in active duty.

“These bills aim to provide meaningful resources to families who have paid the highest price for our nation and freedom,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden, Gloucester). “New Jersey’s Gold Star families deserve our support, and alleviating their burdens after such a tremendous loss will have a far-reaching impact.”

The two bills are part of a five bill package which was introduced earlier this year.

The first bill (S-2858) would create a Gold Star Family Counseling Program in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to link mental health care professionals with Gold Star family members to facilitate mental health counseling free of charge. The bill would also create a tax credit for mental health care professionals who donate their time to the program. Under the bill, the amount of annual tax credit would be determined by the department as the sum of the hours of donated counseling provided to the Gold Star family member multiplied by the documented compensation rate applied to these hours, with limits imposed on cumulative hours.

The second bill (S-2854) authorizes the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission to approve and issue driver’s licenses and identification cards with a Gold Star Family designation, and would enable family members to access benefits from the state. These benefits include free or reduced admission to state parks, beaches and museums, and waivers of licensing fees for professional and occupational licensing boards.

The term Gold Star family is a modern reference that comes from the Service Flag, first flown by families during World War I. The flag included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces during any period of war or hostilities in which the U.S. armed forces were engaged. If that loved one died, the blue star was replaced by a gold star.

Both bills cleared the committee unanimously and will next head to the full Senate along with S-2856.

S-2857 and S-2865 have been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

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