When meeting with community groups, our delegation is often asked about the issue of veterans’ benefits. Justifiably, frustration is expressed by veterans who honorably served their country but didn’t serve during wartime and, thus, aren’t eligible for certain state veterans’ benefits.
Ending the disparate treatment shown to veterans living in New Jersey who honorably served their nation and are deserving of our gratitude and respect is an issue that needs to be addressed. (©iStock)
Members of our legislative delegation serve on both the Senate and Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs committees to more effectively serve our constituency which is comprised of a considerable number of veterans. Thankfully, the work by these committees in conducted in a nonpartisan manner, as playing politics with veterans’ issues is beyond the pale, even for Trenton.
Ending the disparate treatment shown to veterans living in New Jersey who honorably served their nation and are deserving of our gratitude and respect is an issue that needs to be addressed. To that end, we sponsored companion legislation, S-258 and A-143, commonly referred to as the “vet is a vet” legislation.
Specifically, the “vet is a vet” bill would broaden the eligibility for various veterans’ benefits by eliminating the requirement that, to be considered a veteran, a person must have served during periods of war, in specific war zones or during periods of emergency. Instead, the bill provides that a person will be considered a veteran if he or she served for at least 90 days, exclusive of certain types of initial training, in order to be eligible for veterans benefits.
Oddly enough, greater attention has been directed at veterans’ benefits following the passage of the gas tax increase. While our delegation opposed the gas tax increase, we’ve worked hard to raise awareness of a provision of that law that provides veterans an exemption of up to $3,000 on their New Jersey tax return for income earned in 2017. Of significant note, that exemption applies to all veterans who were honorably discharged, regardless of whether they served during wartime.
Because of the tremendous respect we all have for veterans, it’s difficult to say that the principle reason the “vet is a vet” bill has not been considered is the significant costs of expanding state benefits. Complicating matters is the distressed condition of the state’s finances which is punctuated by the unfunded liability of the state pension system.
Unquestionably, the colleagues who we serve with on the Military and Veterans’ Affairs committees are committed to improving our veterans’ quality-of-life as demonstrated by the legislation advanced by the committees. If it meant providing some measure of relief, we’d certainly support legislation that extended specific benefits to all veterans, such as the $250 property tax deduction.
While recognizing the mounting fiscal challenges confronting the state, our delegation looks forward to a comprehensive and constructive discussion of the state veterans’ benefits. Our veterans deserve nothing less.
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