By Vin Gopal
Each Memorial Day, the many veterans of our state and my Senate District come to mind.
Listening to veterans as a legislator traveling the state, and as a member and former chair of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, you cannot help observing the incredible bond between them, regardless of when or where they served. They speak little of the battles they fought, but remember the man or woman who served next to them decades ago in vivid detail.
Their bond lasts a lifetime.
You see that at local veterans events, with veterans of different branches of service and different generations. They may have never met before, but they talk to each other like lifelong friends.
It’s so important that we take Memorial Day seriously and show that we feel a bond to the veterans in our lives. Calling a veteran in your family or among your friends to let them know you appreciate their service is a small thing, but it means a lot to veterans. Going to local Memorial Day services is another way to show our support of veterans as a community.
As legislators, we must honor the veterans who have passed by doing everything we can to help those who are living.
My legislation to establish a task force to study issues faced by returning members of US Armed Forces, NJ National Guard, and reserves is now before the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The 13-member permanent commission would bring the Commissioners of Education, Labor and Workforce Development, Health, Human Services, and Civil Service to help veterans address these challenges.
It follows that we must make sure veterans know what services are available to help them and their families, and streamline their ability to access them. My sponsored companion legislation would require the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) to develop a mobile application to give veterans and their families an additional avenue to access DMVA resources. The mobile app also would serve as a guide with information about veterans’ legal rights, medical and insurance issues, education, housing, and the transition from active duty to civilian life.
To help disabled veterans support their family’s education, my pending legislation introduced in February would give tuition-free and fee-free college to the spouse or dependent child of a disabled veteran. Under the bill, they would have to show they have applied for all other sources of financial aid. The state would reimburse the four-year college the difference between the aid they receive and their tuition and fees. Another of my bills would create a “Purple Star Schools Program” with the Commissioner of Education annually recognizing public and nonpublic schools that address the educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected students encounter while transitioning to a new school while their parent or guardian is on active duty.
In addition, my sponsored legislation this year includes bills calling for spouses and dependents of military service members to qualify for in-State tuition when that service member is transferred to another state; an appropriation of $2.5 million to NJ Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation to expand the memorial and museum, and establishing that 100 percent Disabled Veterans are not required to submit to MVC certain documentation to renew parking privileges.
Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and make it even more satisfying by reaching out to thank a veteran.