Whelan Bills To Support Military Veterans Approved

‘VETeach Pilot Program’ Would Create Expedited Path to Accreditation, County ID Program Would Make It Easier for Vets to Access Discount Programs

TRENTON – A pair of bills sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan which would make it easier for returning veterans to become public school teachers and would create a county ID for military vets in order to make it easier for them to access discount programs and courtesies extended to military personnel was unanimously approved by the Senate yesterday.

“New Jersey’s military veterans have risked their lives in combat in order to protect America and its interests around the world,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “The brave men and women currently serving and having served in our military deserve a level of support from a grateful State, and these bills are a small token of our gratitude. This is really the least we can do for people who’ve sacrificed so much for our freedom, and I’m proud to work with the veteran community to advance bills which give something back for their service.”

The first bill, S-1026, would establish the “VETeach Pilot Program” in the Department of Education in order to address a pending shortage in public school teachers and allow veterans to transition into the classroom. Under the pilot program, the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey would enroll veterans who served in the Armed Forces on or after September 11, 2001 into a 36-month teacher preparation program. Upon completion of the expedited program, participants would receive a baccalaureate degree, and would be able to apply to the State Board of Examiners for a certificate allowing them to teach in grades K through 8, and in certain secondary education fields.

Senator Whelan noted that under the bill, any educational expenses incurred would be covered under the “Post 9-11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act,” also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. He also added that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans nationwide was 11.5% in 2010 – nearly 2 percentage points above the national average.

“Especially with the increase in the number of public school teachers filing for retirement in the last few years, New Jersey is on the brink of a teacher shortage,” said Senator Whelan. “In order to give our kids the best education possible, we need to recruit new teachers who have a commitment and dedication to the kids they teach. The VETeach program is intended to transition our returning vets into civilian life, and allow New Jersey’s students the benefit of learning the value of service from someone who knows firsthand what it means to serve our country.”

The second bill, S-323, would permit county clerks to create an identification card for veterans who live within the county and do not already hold a veteran ID card issued by the federal government. The cards would not serve as sufficient proof of service for official government business or to secure veterans’ benefits – such as the state-administered veteran property tax deduction, or GI Bill education benefits. According to Senator Whelan, the intention of the cards is to help veterans receive discounts and other courtesies extended to military veterans.

Senator Whelan noted that some shore towns offer free or reduced cost beach badges to military veterans and their families in the summertime. Many local businesses also provide discounts to veterans for a variety of services and goods, including deals on electronics, travel and restaurants, according to the Atlantic City lawmaker.

“Many of our State’s businesses – and even some of our communities – have stepped up to say thanks to our returning vets, by offering discounts and courtesies reserved specifically for those who’ve served in the military,” said Senator Whelan. “This bill is intended to make it easier for these establishments to quickly identify vets who are entitled to discounts, and reserve these programs specifically for the folks who qualify. It’s just another small way to say thanks for your service.”

Both bills now head to the Assembly for consideration.