About NJ Veteran Journal:
The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official
publication of the New Jersey Department of
Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended
to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families,
friends and concerned individuals and groups.
All correspondence should be sent to the
NJDMAVA, PAO-V, PO Box 340,
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340
The leaders of veterans’ service organization from across New Jersey gathered together on Oct. 28 to learn of the latest information for their members and to hear about the newest ideas that the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) has to support the nearly 600,000 veterans in state.
The meeting began with a warning that unlike the current state budget where DMAVA was one of two departments to be fully funded, the next budget year starting in July 2007 could be different.
Carol Paprock, a representative of Samaritan Hospice, spoke about the benefits of hospice services for terminally ill patients.
“Everything going forward is going to be a challenge,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the Adjutant General of New Jersey.
The department is looking at two approaches to use the $2 million dollars added in this year’s budget to address the homeless veterans’ issue. The original idea was to expand the existing Veterans Haven facility located on the grounds of Ancora State Hospital in Winslow Township, adding 34-beds to the transitional housing program.
With the department being involved with the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, eyes have turned to the base as a possible second Vets Haven site. The leadership is exploring the idea of using the state money with Federal funds to convert the current Patterson Army Hospital into a 200-bed transitional housing facility and a permanent home for the Veterans Administration clinic. There should be decision in the spring if the Fort Monmouth proposal is feasible.
There are an estimated 8,000 homeless vets in the Garden State, many who continue to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“PTSD is for real,” noted Rieth as he spoke about increased efforts to catch the problems early and the department’s counseling hotline (1-866-838-7654).
“That hotline serves any veteran from any war, with thirty percent of the phone calls coming from families,” added retired Col. Stephen G. Abel, Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs.
There has been a distinct shift in the age and health of veterans entering the state’s three memorial homes, with many more being admitted in poor health and most being older. Abel noted that the length of a residents stay in a memorial home has dropped steadily to where the average is now three years.
Those demographic changes along with rising costs have lead to widening of the gap between actual costs of care for a veteran and the daily care rate charged. The actual cost is $231 dollars per day while Veterans Memorial Homes only charge $159 dollars, a rate that has not changed in nearly five years.
“The gap has gotten too wide and we can not make up the difference,” said Abel as he announced the rate will go up $25 as of January 1, 2007 to $184 dollars per day. When compared to private nursing homes, the state facilities are very cost competitive added Abel, “Even at the full rate it would still be a bargain.”
When the topic of legislative issues came up Abel gave the veterans leaders some ideas to focus on in 2007.
The ‘Vet-is-a-Vet’ legislation, which would allow any veteran recognized under Federal rules to be awarded Veterans Preference in the state, is still a priority. There is a need for the state legislature to look at forming a state committee dedicated to the issues of women veterans.
Abel stressed that the lack of increased funding for many Federal Veterans Administration programs could affect the future expansion of the state facilities for veterans. The VA Home Constructions Fund has been stuck at $85 million dollars and there is need for additional funding in the VA’s State Cemetery Grant Program.
“It is an uneven playing field for states and state cemeteries,” explained Abel when he talked about how there is currently no Federal Plot Interment Allowance for spouses. Bringing more Federal dollars back to New Jersey is a goal for the department, not only for facilities and programs, but more importantly for individual veterans in the form of VA entitlements.
The outreach efforts of the state Veteran Services Officers to assist veterans in applying for VA benefits or re-visiting an existing claim has resulted in one out of every four VA applications being handled by DMAVA.
Veterans experience better than 90 percent success rate in getting VA entitlements approved, when assisted by DMAVA, according to David Walther, State Supervisor of the Veteran Services Officers. He made the analogy that not using a state VSO when applying to the VA is like going to court without an attorney.