TRENTON – The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee today approved a series of bills to aid and support veterans, including measures that would remove an obstacle to benefits and another to find ways to improve transportation services for former members of the armed services. All the bills are sponsored by Senator Joe Cryan, the chairman of the committee.
One bill, S-2314, would allow veterans with other-than-honorable discharges to qualify for state benefits already offered to other veterans. These benefits include income and property tax deductions, employment preferences, homeless assistance, pensions and veteran recognition on licenses or ID cards. It would “fix a system that strips the honor and dignity these veterans deserve” due to conduct resulting from service-related trauma, such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Military Sexual Trauma, Senator Cryan said.
“These are men and women who have served and sacrificed on behalf of our country,” said Senator Cryan (D-Union). “It’s a cruel irony that former soldiers are being denied treatment and benefits because of so-called ‘bad paper’ discharges for conduct caused by their military experience. This is an injustice that needs to be corrected. We shouldn’t leave any soldier behind.”
The other-than-honorable status – often for minor infractions of military rules – prevents them from accessing federal services and benefits, including VA health care and free postsecondary education. The bill would require the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs to establish a process to qualify these veterans for state benefits.
Another bill, S-3113, would have the department establish the “Disabled Veterans Transportation Task Force” to identify ways to improve and increase transportation services that are so important to disabled veterans, especially to access VA medical facilities.
“Disabled vets face serious mobility challenges that make it hard for them to get to where they need to go, including medical appointments, grocery stores, employment appointments and veterans’ centers,” said Senator Cryan. “We need to get a clear understanding of all the transportation obstacles that are in their way and find solutions to overcome them. Disabled veterans have earned the right to the transportation services they need. We want to make sure they get them.”
The task force would include representation from the Department of Transportation, NJ Transit, the Adjutant General, disabled veterans, veterans’ organizations and representatives of county commissioners. The members would come from different regions of New Jersey.
According to the bill, the task force would issue an interim report with recommendations within six months and a completed report to the Legislature and Governor within one year.
The Veterans Committee also approved a measure, S-3112, to ensure that deceased veterans are able to be buried in county veterans’ cemeteries. The bill would set a uniform definition of “indigent” so there are no barriers to their “respectful and honorable” burials, Senator Cryan said.
Also approved by the committee was legislation, S-3111, to allow brief leaves of absence for public workers who are members of Vietnam Veterans of America to attend the organization’s conventions.
All the bills were approved with unanimous votes.