Legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Vince Mazzeo, Bob Andrzejczak and Raj Mukherji sponsored to help New Jersey veterans access much-needed health services gained approval from the Senate by a vote of 33-1 on Thursday.
Under the bill (A-3749), the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs would be required to establish a program to provide assistance to qualified veterans in in-patient and out-patient treatment programs to travel to attend counseling programs within New Jersey.
“Many veterans are unable to take advantage of helpful treatment programs in New Jersey because of the difficulty in arranging transportation,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This bill will promote transportation assistance to veterans in order to ensure our veterans have the access to quality care they deserve.”
“Counseling programs are vital for many of our veterans, who sacrificed so much serving our country,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Unfortunately, getting to these programs can prove difficult for many veterans, so the least we can do is create a program to ensure they can travel to attend these programs.”
“Having programs for our veterans is important, but our veterans need to be able to travel to them for them to be of value, which can be a difficult task for many,” said Andrzejczak (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland), who is a disabled U.S. Army veteran wounded in Iraq. “If we truly want to help veterans, we need to ensure they can take full advantage of the programs there to help them, so that’s the goal of this bill.”
“Making sure our veterans can get to the programs they need is basic common sense,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson), who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “Veterans in treatment programs who need counseling programs deserve basic services, especially when it can be easily accomplished.”
Specifically, the bill would require the department to establish a program for travel to medical counseling appointments for service-connected conditions approved by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
The program would reimburse qualified veterans who pay for their own travel costs for public transportation or for using a private vehicle. New Jersey Transit would be required to provide proof of travel to a qualified veteran in order for them to get reimbursed for the travel. The reimbursement for the use of a private vehicle would be on a per mile basis.
A veteran could also be reimbursed for using a for-hire transportation service if the veteran needs the service due to a federally-certified service-connected injury or disability that prevents the veteran from operating a private vehicle. The department must also develop a system to monitor such reimbursements.
The measure, which was originally approved by the Assembly in February, was amended by the Senate last month so it now heads back to the Assembly for final concurrence before it heads to the governor’s desk. It would take effect 180 days after being signed into law.