New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation to double the state allowances for certain disabled veterans for the first time in decades and to make future increases automatic.
New Jersey awards veterans who became blind, paraplegic or hemiplegic as a result of wartime service injuries a $750 annual allowance. The benefit for paraplegic and hemiplegic vets has remained unchanged since 1981 and the benefit for blind vets since 1971.
Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Assemblyman Cleopatra Tucker, D-28th of Newark, would double the benefit for both groups to $1,500. It also would make annual adjustments automatic based on inflation, as established by the Consumer Price Index.
The allowance would be adjusted upward only as a result of inflation and would remain unchanged if the cost of living declines.
Tucker, chairwoman of the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said the increase is long overdue and would not have a drastic impact on the state’s finances.
As of July, 219 veterans were receiving one or both of the allowances, according to the Office of Legislative Services.
“I see nothing wrong with asking for an increase, because some of these disabilities came about because they were serving their county,” Tucker said. “We should do everything we need to do to make sure they’re properly cared for. ... They haven’t had an increase since 1981, and we ll know the cost of living has increased in that time.”
The committee voted 5-0 to release the measure, clearing it for review by a second Assembly committee or a floor vote by the full Assembly.
Companion legislation in the Senate also has cleared that chamber’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Also Thursday, the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee approved legislation making the knowing misrepresentation of a veteran or active member of the military to receive benefits or other financial gains a third-degree crime, punishable by up to three to five years in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine.
Current state law makes it a fourth-degree crime to impersonate a veteran or service member with the intent to deceive, although not necessarily for the purpose of obtaining any kind of benefit.
The bill, known as the Stolen Valor Act, also would punish people who are guilty of making false statements about being a recipient of a medal or other military decoration for the purpose of obtaining money or other benefits as a third-degree crime with a minimum $1,000 fine.
Fines collected under the bill would be dedicated to a military dependents scholarship fund proposed under separate legislation. The fund would provide college scholarships to spouses or children of members killed, missing in action or disabled in military conflicts that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001.
The Senate Military and Affairs Committee approved identical legislation last week.
The legislation must be approved by the full Assembly and Senate and be signed by the governor to become law.