A sign carried by an attendee at the 2019 Veteran's Day Parade in New York City captures the essence of this blog: "Thank You for Defending Our Freedom."
It is a hard act to follow. And in the wake of our recent election, many have heard about promises to our military personnel. I would like to think that beyond promises and words is direct, concrete action, which has characterized my involvement and views exemplified by the aforementioned sign.
I have focused my support for veterans in three areas: employment, education and housing. Below is a list of my varied initiatives.
- Senate Bill No. 60. Establishes "Military Pro Bono Program" to provide no-cost legal representation to active-duty service members and veterans of the military.
- Senate Bill No. 61. Concerns professional licensing and application fees for a spouse or dependent of an active duty member of the United States Armed Forces.
- Senate Bill No. 453. Exempts disabled veterans from certain fees at New Jersey parks and forests.
- Senate Bill No. 717. Provides gross income tax deduction to certain surviving spouses of veterans.
- Senate Bill No. 2736. Provide a gross income tax credit to cover a portion of the rent paid by the disabled veteran
While all these legislative initiatives are essential, I want to expand on several bills that I have sponsored that directly address employment, education and housing. These include:
Employment: Senate Bill 59 - This bill provides certain employment protections for National Guard members employed in New Jersey. This bill protects members of the National Guard of New Jersey (or from any other state) with job security if they are called to active duty. The very fact that they are called up implies an urgent situation or crisis that requires their presence. And they do so willingly. I don't believe they should be concerned about whether they will have their job waiting for them when they return. It doesn't take much imagination to think what it would feel like to have our military leadership call you up for an assignment — usually because of a crisis — and return to civilian life to a job that has disappeared. We must ensure this never happens.
Education: Senate Bill No. S961 - My legislation establishes an annual grant program to recognize higher education institutions that offer a comprehensive array of veteran programs and services. We are fond of promoting the idea of education to foster a productive and long-lasting career path. Many service personnel who have been outside the orbit of civilian life need some assistance with adjusting, including going or returning to college. Some forward-thinking educational institutions understand and have made their school, to put it simply, "veteran-friendly." This bill would provide for a grant that would fine-tune this process. We call this "Troops to Grant Program" and would establish it in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. This program would address services and issues that include federal student financial aid, counseling, resources, and a campus veterans' assistance officer as a single point of contact. The key to this effort is creating a bridge to college for our veterans, resulting in a successful experience and, ultimately, graduation.
Housing: Senate Bill 1746. This bill authorizes grants to purchase and rehabilitate abandoned homes for homeless veterans. Abandoned homes can become neighborhood jewels if you can overcome the momentary eyesore. They represent hope and hearth to veterans who have suffered a misstep and found themselves homeless. I view this legislation as the merging of two needs dovetailing into an elegant worthwhile solution. Our homeless veterans need a home and the stability it provides to start again. They served our country, which means they served us, and that warrants a helping hand. Abandoned homes are a visual and economic blight. Rehabilitating them adds a certain sparkle to the neighborhood. This bill is a merging of two needs toward a common, worthwhile goal.
Is there anything else we can say to our veterans? There is much we can add, but here’s a message everyone can send: Thank you for your service.
That's my view, what's yours?