When Our Soldiers Come Home

The United States is a nation at war. Whatever your politics, we can all agree that the young men and women we send to foreign lands, protecting our way of life, deserve our support.

Right now, our men and women are being tapped for active military service overseas as members of the Army National Guard and the United States Army Reserves.

Some were impressed by the recruiter at their high school or county college before graduation. Others were attracted to educational benefits available through full time enlistment or National Guard service.

As their families pray for their safe return to our homeland, it’s a most trying time for these soldiers whose lives are forever marked by their experiences in harm’s way.

Once they safely return home to pick up on careers left behind or begin new ones, we must ensure these new veterans’ have opportunities for employment.

In my capacity as State Senator, I’ve discussed issues important to new veterans with various groups over the last three years. In one Camden County discussion, a quirk in the State law was brought to my attention.

Veteran’s preference statutes in New Jersey have long been based on the principle that we owe it to returning service personnel to help them secure job opportunities in the public sector.

However under current law, civil service procedures have three significant steps. First, civil service makes an announcement notifying people of an open position and allowing them to apply. Then, there is a waiting period of up to six months until the exam is taken. After the exam is taken, the scores are ranked taking an additional four to six months. The final list can take up to eight to twelve months to be produced.

So, if an activated National Guardsman serving in Iraq gets an e-mail from his fiancé about a Civil Service test application for a police department position in his hometown, that soldier can apply for the position. The problem is he won’t be able to benefit from veteran’s preference if he’s still on active duty at the time of the application process.

Oftentimes, the application deadline is months ahead of the exam. A soldier could apply for an exam in July, but the test would not be issued until December. Meanwhile, even though that soldier was discharged from the military in September, he or she would not be classified as a veteran for that exam.

I convened a meeting with Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, Adjunct General of the State Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, and Rolando Torres Jr., Commissioner of the Department of Personnel to resolve this discrepancy.

We discussed the issue of concern brought to my attention by the veterans from Camden County. We spoke of the roadblocks new veterans face in qualifying for preference classification and both cabinet officers expressed support for my proposal to eliminate this potential problem for returning service men and women.

My bill, S-1980, allows newly discharged members of the military to submit proof of veterans status up to seven days prior to the issuance of an open competitive list for which that new veteran received a passing score.

Simply stated, a new veteran could qualify for veteran’s preference for a Civil Service position even though he/she is still in the military at the time of the exam. If proof of veteran status is submitted up to seven days before an authorized hiring list is established based on test rankings, they would qualify for veteran’s preference, under S-1980.

What’s most gratifying about this proposal is that it was brought to my attention by veterans themselves, the people aware of the process that wish to improve a system established to help our returning service personnel.

Senator Madden, D-Camden and Gloucester, represents the 4th Legislative District in the State Senate. He is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and a member of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs and Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committees.