Assembly Democratic Bill to Provide Free Mental Health Services to Gold Star Families Approved by Assembly, Heads to Gov

Bill Sponsored by Greenwald, Johnson, Andrzejczak, Mazzeo, Houghtaling, Jones, Mukherji

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Lou Greenwald, Gordon Johnson, Bob Andrzejczak, Vince Mazzeo, Eric Houghtaling, Patricia Jones, and Raj Mukherji to provide mental health services and other resources to Gold Star families was unanimously approved Thursday by the General Assembly.

The term “Gold Star” describes a family member who has lost a loved one in military service. A Gold Star Family member is defined to mean a spouse, domestic partner, partner in a civil union, parent, brother, sister, child, legal guardian, or other legal custodian.

“Gold Star families have given the greatest sacrifice they can for our freedoms, and we need to do our part to support them,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “These bills will provide needed support to navigate the challenges and difficulties they face in the wake of losing a loved one.”
The bill (A-4399) would establish the “Gold Star Family Counseling Program” in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) to help provide Gold Star family members with mental health care.

The Gold Star Family Counseling Program would recruit health care professionals to provide mental health counseling to Gold Star family members free of charge. Specifically, the DMVA is directed to recruit psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, social workers, and family counselors to provide counseling to Gold Star family members. In exchange for the counseling, the mental health care professionals could receive an annual tax credit equal to the compensation foregone for a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40 hours of donated counseling time each year.

“Family members dealing with the untimely death of a loved one are often left with deep emotional wounds that can take a long time to heal,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Providing free mental health services can give these families the support they need to get through the grieving process.”

“The untimely death of a loved is devastating,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland) “Behind every soldier is a military family that contributed to the safety of our country. We have a responsibility to ensure their stability and well-being when they suffer a loss.”

“For many of these families, there is no getting back to normal,” said Jones (D-Camden/Gloucester). “It is important that we facilitate access to mental health care services for those families who need the caring intervention of a mental health professional.”

“Gold Star families deserve our support,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “While none of this will bring their loved one back, we should make every effort to let them know they are not alone.”

“Grieving Gold Star families should not have to deal with bureaucratic hurdles,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “We should facilitate access to valuable resources and services so that these families are able to get the help they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

“A sudden death can take a toll on families not just emotionally, but financially,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This provides Gold Star families who are grieving the opportunity to get the help they need without having to worry about the financial implications.”

The bill was approved by the Senate on July 26. It will now go to the Governor for further