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Van Drew, Cruz-Perez Bills to Help Homeless Veterans Advance

TRENTON – Two pieces of legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew and Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez establishing grant programs to help veterans cleared the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee today.

“We need to continue to help our veterans in this state,” said Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May Cumberland, Atlantic).  “These men and women go off to serve and many times return with both visible and invisible wounds and they deserve access to basic necessities like healthcare and employment and most of all, a place to call home. These men and women have encountered incredible obstacles and endured so much anguish while at war; they should not have to deal with even more struggle when they return home to the country they were fighting to protect.”

“We as a country cannot turn our backs on those who fought for us,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This is one way that we can show our gratitude to the men and women who sacrificed so much. Establishing these grant programs for veterans can go a long way in terms of helping provide comfort and care to those who need it and deserve it. It’s the least we can do for those who have done so much for us.”

The first bill, S-312, would establish a grant program for homeless veterans’ shelters. The bill would require the Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs to award grants to certain southern New Jersey counties to provide veterans with improved access to homeless shelters.

Under the bill, Atlantic County, Cape May County, and Cumberland County may submit applications to the Adjutant General proposing locations for homeless veterans’ shelters and identifying property the county would provide to the State for the development of a shelter. Under the bill, the grants would be awarded based upon the submission of applications by an eligible county in accordance with a process and criteria developed by the Adjutant General and monies appropriated by the Legislature for this purpose.

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority of homeless veterans are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population is veterans.

The second bill, S-2593, establishes a Veterans Assistance Grant Program for nonprofit organizations to provide services for veterans such as mental health or family counseling services. Special services such as job training and housing assistance would also qualify.

Both bills cleared the committee unanimously and both will head to the  Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee  for further consideration.