Inside Veteran Legislation Updates

Compiled from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act authorizes $1

billion to aid homeless veterans and prevent homeless. It is currently on the President’s desk, awaiting his signature for enactment. (December 20)

The New Jersey Veteran
Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends, and concerned individuals and groups.

Donald T. DiFrancesco
Acting Governor

Maj.Gen. Paul J. Glazar
The Adjutant General

Michael L. Warner
Deputy Commissioner for
Veterans Affairs

G. Natasha Zoe

Barbara J. Harbison
Mark Olsen

The Veteran Journal is published by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

All correspondence should be sent to the editor at:

PO Box 340
101 Eggert Crossing Rd.
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act authorizes more than $3.1 billion over five years to increase educational, housing, burial and disability benefits. It is currently on the President’s desk, awaiting his signature for enactment. (December 20)

~ Boosts the MGIB college education benefit by 46% over two years.

~ Restores MGIB benefits to reservists and guardsmen called up to duty.

~ Increases the Home Loan Guaranty Program from $50,700 to $60,000.

~ Increases specially adapted housing grants for severely disabled veterans from $43,000 to $48,000.

~ Increases the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans.

~ Increases burial and funeral expense benefits by 25% and doubles burial plot allowances.

~ Adds Diabetes Type II to list of service- connected conditions for Agent orange exposed Vietnam veterans.

~ Adds undiagnosed conditions fybromyalgia,chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic multi-symptom illnesses to list of service-connected conditions for Gulf War veterans.

Veterans Compensation Rate Amendments of 2001 boosts compensation payments for disabled veterans by $2.5 billion over the next five years. It is currently on the President’s desk, awaiting his signature for enactment. (December 20)

Veterans Survivors’ Benefits Improvements Act (Public Law 107- 14) adds $100 million in new health care and life insurance benefits. Signed into Law. (June 5)

~ Expands CHAMPVA to surviving spouses of veterans who die of a service- connected disability.

~ Expands Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) to servicemembers' spouses ($100,000) and children ($10,000.)

~ Makes retroactive to October 1, 2000 increases in the maximum SGLI benefit for servicemembers killed in the line of duty to $250,000.

Veterans’ Mail to D.C. Offices Held Up by Anthrax Mail Disruption - Veterans who sent applications or letters to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offices in Washington, D.C., since October should be aware that mail is just now being delivered due to concerns about anthrax. VA offices plan to expedite the processing of requests and responses to letters. (December 14)

Desert Shield, Desert Storm Veterans Have Higher Rate Of ALS - In a large epidemiological study, researchers supported by both the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) have found preliminary evidence that veterans who served in Desert Shield- Desert Storm are nearly twice as likely as their non-deployed counterparts to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. (December 10)

VA to Lower Copayments for Outpatient Care - Veterans who currently make copayments for outpatient health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will have lower bills, and in some cases, no bills at all, under rules published today in the Federal Register. (December 6)

Property Tax Relief
New Jersey voters approved, and the Governor supported a 400 percent increase in the $50 property tax deduction for veterans; the deduction will rise to $250 over a five-year period. But that’s not all:

$5.5 million was spent in FY 1999 to refund totally disabled veterans who paid property taxes not knowing that they were exempt. State law exempts veterans, who are fully (100 percent) and permanently disabled because of a wartime servicerelated injury or disease, from paying property taxes.

Veterans Homes
The state’s three veterans homes are providing the best care possible and operating efficiently. The FY 2001 budget included an additional $9 million state match for a $33 million reconstruction of the Vineland Veterans Memorial Home, which will expand to have 300 beds and an assisted living complex with 32 beds.

A new $42 million, 332-bed veterans home in Menlo Park was completed in 1999, and offers adult medical day care and respite care to reduce the number of institutionalized veterans.

All three veterans homes in New Jersey received the state’s highest level of certification for long-term care facilities, putting veterans homes in the top 10 percent of all nursing homes in the state.

Improvements in management and operations were implemented, reducing the cost to residents by an average of $1,000 over the past three years.

An exclusion is now allowed for the federal VA compensation for service-connected disability from consideration in determining the amount of maintenance a family should pay to keep residents in N.J. Veterans Homes. Since 1997, this initiative saved veterans in New Jersey an annual total of $150,000.

Funding has been increased for N.J. Veterans Homes by more than $1 million in each fiscal year 1999-2001.

Homeless Veterans
The Veterans Haven for homeless veterans at Ancora expanded from 30 to 50 beds.

Fourteen Stand Downs have allowed us to reach out to 7,900 of homeless veterans and 1,000 family members. Stand Down to provide homeless veterans with access to healthcare, mental health screening, substance abuse counseling, social services availability, religious counseling, a hot meal, a haircut and winter clothing. Stand Down’s ultimate goal is to show disenfranchised veterans that someone still cares and to assist them in bringing their homelessness to a close.

Income Tax Exemption
Military retirement pensions are now exempt from New Jersey’s state income tax for those under age 62, the previous law exempted military pensions from taxation only after the age of 62.

Sales Tax Exemption
The National Guard Association, VFW, American Legion, Marine Corps League and other war veterans’ posts or associations now have exempt organization status under the sales tax laws.

Battleship New Jersey
The Battleship USS New Jersey is back home in the Garden State as a floating museum and a memorial. The FY 1999 budget included $2.2 million for expenses incurred in bringing “Big J” back. And FY 2000 budget included $6 million for refurbishment, repair and capital costs so residents and visitors may experience the most decorated battleship in U.S. history.

War Memorials
New Jersey is now home to two new war memorials and plans are underway to build a third.

The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, dedicated on May 7, 1995, contains the 1,556 names of the men and one women from New Jersey who lost their lives in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam Conflict. This memorial is intended to honor their sacrifice and let their friends and loved ones know that these New Jersey citizens will never be forgotten.

The Vietnam Era Educational Center is located within sight of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is dedicated to telling the full story of the Vietnam War, as seen from both the front lines, as well as the home front.

The New Jersey Korean War Veterans Memorial, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before it, helps to heal the spiritual and psychological wounds suffered by the Korean War veterans, their families and friends. The New Jersey Korean War Veterans Memorial is dedicated to ensuring that future generations remember their proud and dedicated service; the legacy they continued; and the freedom they preserved. The New Jersey Korean War Memorial, located in Brighton Park, Atlantic City – where Park Place meets the Boardwalk was dedicated November 13, 2000.

The World War II Memorial. On August 16, the N.J. World War II Memorial Commission approved the final report's working plan. The Commission unanimously believes that a Memorial honoring our World War II veterans is needed. They believe that such a Memorial should be incorporated into a veterans’ park that already is being planned for a state-owned piece of land in Jersey City.

Burial Services.
We provide burial services to all honorably discharged veterans and their spouses and dependant children at no cost to their families. The General Doyle Cemetery is the busiest cemetery in the state veterans cemetery system and ranks 12th among all state and national veterans cemeteries. More than 12 veterans are buried daily at the cemetery. Since its opening, more than 23,000 veterans or their eligible family members have been interred. The cemetery will remain in full operation for 30 more years.

Additional FY 2001 funding enabled the number of interments at the Brigadier General Doyle Memorial Cemetery to rise annually by 200 by allowing for multiple burials at the same time and in bad weather.

The VA State Cemetery Grants Program is funding 100 percent of the costs of installing a five-acre section of 9,200 in-ground crypts. The inground crypts will more than double the capacity of the remaining burial sections and facilitate burials during periods of inclement weather and during the winter months. This part of the ongoing VA reimbursed expansion and improvement plan for the Veterans Cemetery will cost an estimated $6.0 million.

Veterans Civil Service Preference
A preference for veterans was extended for state appointments and promotions for former members of the Coast Guard who have received the Medal of Honor or Navy Cross, and for veterans of Somalia and Bosnia.

Veterans Affairs Clinic
As the federal government has focused veterans health care funding to the warmer regions of the South and West, we fought vigorously along with the state congressional delegation to retain health care benefits for veterans in the Northeast. These efforts led to the dedication a Veterans Affairs Clinic at Fort Dix in 1998, and several other clinics throughout the state.