A New Jersey lawmaker who flew Army helicopters in Iraq says it’s time to stop the “soft-shoe” approach to serving veterans, proposing a serious 9-bill package that does more than offering free beach access and free hunting and fishing licenses.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville), a West Point graduate, said he spent the last nine months in pursuit of plans in other states to service their veterans. His legislation includes ideas from Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and West Virginia.
“These bills represent the very best ideas from around the country,” said Bergen, a freshman Republican from Morris County. “It is time we make New Jersey the most desirable place for our heroes to come when they are finished serving our country.”
Bergen says New Jersey has about 308,000 veterans.
One of Bergen’s proposals includes a one-time $10,000 grant to help veterans buy an established franchise.
The package of bills includes a “Bring Veterans to New Jersey” program that would pay up to $5,000 in relocation expenses to veterans move to the Garden State after accepting a job offer. Another bill seeks to offer grants of an additional $5,000 top help veterans may a down payment on a home in New Jersey and pay their closing costs.
“We want veterans to come to New Jersey. We need them in our workforce, and we want them to own businesses,” Bergen said. “The more we do to incentivize them the better.”
Another bill would give service-disabled veterans a property tax discount that would match their disability rating. That means a veteran who is 70% disabled would only pay 30% of their property tax; the current state law only allows veterans who are 100% disabled to qualify.
Other bills would raise annual payments to seriously disabled veterans from $750 to $3,000, and create a military family relief fund that would offer grants of up to $2,500 to help defray cots of food, housing and health care for U.S. Armed Forces and New Jersey National Guard members and their families.
Bergen is also proposing free tuition at a state college for New Jersey residents who served at least one year of federal active duty.
He is asking that the legislature waive tuition and fees for Medal of Honor or Purple Heart recipients.
“Veterans gave us and our country their best, and they should get the best we can offer back,” concluded Bergen.
Senate counterparts of the bills were introduced by Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) and State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland).