Working to Provide Veterans with Job Opportunities, Educational Programs, Housing Assistance and Access to Nutritional Food
It is popular today to publicly praise our soldiers and veterans. We see it at athletic events, and in news coverage, even standing in line at Starbucks when someone offers to buy coffee for a person wearing a military uniform. These tributes are fitting, and they avoid the public distancing marked by forgetfulness that seemed to follow some veterans, especially if they served in Korea or Vietnam. Our military personnel deserve all the attention and praise that we shower on them. And honoring our active and retired armed forces members during National Military Appreciation Month is particularly timely.
However, we should and can do more. While a public tribute warms the heart for a moment, we must delve deeper into our efforts to assist our veterans with the readjustment process. This has become particularly important to me with my recent appointment as Chairman of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
I believe that there are many avenues that we can explore to demonstrate the sincere gratitude of a grateful nation for the men and women of our armed forces. Recently, during my first hearing of the aforementioned committee we began that important work. Here is a sample of some of the things we have worked on:
Expanding Veteran Eligibility. This combined proposal (S1640/1822) would expand eligibility for veterans’ hiring preferences in the civil service so that individuals who served in the military, but are currently ineligible due to the time and non-combat nature of their service, would receive additional points above the individual’s earned score on state civil service exams. This initiative begins the process of ensuring that a “vet is a vet” under New Jersey law.
The Educational Ticket. An important step in integrating veterans back into civilian life is, unsurprisingly, finding a job, vocation or career. Sometimes the skills one needed in the military translate seamlessly into civilian life. But many do not, and the way to overcome this disconnect is through education.
In New Jersey, we want to ensure that veterans have the best possible opportunities to learn about educational choices. Some of New Jersey’s premier colleges and universities are already doing an incredible job helping our veterans to obtain a higher education, finish their degree programs, find employment upon graduation and, most importantly, transition into civilian life again. For that reason, I have introduced S-1480, which would encourage institutions to expand their Troops to College initiative for this highly motivated group of students. This legislation would provide a grant of $150,000 to three public institutions of higher education. Troops to College is designed to raise awareness among former military personnel that a plethora of options exists for education, training and even job searching.
Assisting Homeless Veterans. It is unacceptable to allow our veterans to go from serving our country to living on the streets when they come home. Our veterans sacrificed time away from their families, friends and work in defense of our freedom so we must do everything possible to assist them during difficult and trying times in their lives. They deserve to be treated with dignity and should have the best services at their disposal. This initiative directs the Adjutant General in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, subject to the availability of funds, to enter into agreements with public or private entities to fund a portion of the legal services such entities provide to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness related to housing, family law, income support, and criminal defense.
No Hungry Soldiers. The men and women who serve our nation should not have to fight to keep food on the table when they return home. When military families do not live on a military base they receive a Basic Housing Allowance. That allowance is meant to help them defray the cost of living off base, but currently it is being considered as income for the purpose of determining eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other benefits.
It should not be used as a tool to limit their eligibility for federal food assistance programs. We, as a nation, owe a great debt to our veterans. Currently, Congress is debating a proposal, The Military Hunger Prevention Act, which would amend federal law to exclude the Basic Housing Allowance when determining eligibility for certain federal benefits, including SNAP. In 2015, more than $80 million in SNAP benefits were used to buy food at military commissaries. The greatest country in the world should not force its fighting force to need government assistance to make ends meet.
All these initiatives are directed to assist the brave, patriotic service men and women in our military, both past and present. This is only a piece of the ongoing efforts we plan to undertake in this new role as Chairman. So, let us pause during this Military Appreciation Month and every month thereafter, to salute them for their service. That’s my take, what’s yours?