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Package of Bills Would Also Aid New Jersey’s Homeless Veterans

Assemblyman Troy Singleton has introduced the V.E.T. Act – The Veteran Empowerment and Training Act – a package of bills designed to combat the difficulties New Jersey’s military service members and veterans face in accessing higher education and career opportunities.

“This economy has been hard on everyone, but particularly our veterans, many of whom have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan to find a very different employment climate from when they left,” said Singleton. “There’s no way to ever truly repay the debt of gratitude we owe them, so the least we can do is make their transition to civilian life as easy as possible by broadening their access to employment and higher education opportunities.”

The first bill (A-2014) in the package requires the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to establish a pilot program to aid former military personnel in finding employment in the construction industry. The pilot program would require that for each highway project constructed by the authority, at least 20 percent of the projected labor hours are awarded to contractors registered with the Helmets to Hardhats Program.

The Helmets to Hardhats Program is a national program established in 2003 that connects National Guard, Reserve, and transitioning active-duty military members with quality career training and employment opportunities in the construction industry. The program is administered by the non-profit Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment, and Veterans Employment (CMRAVE).

To participate in the program, employers must register with and receive approval from CMRAVE. The employer must also participate in proven apprenticeship training programs and seek to ensure that transitioning veterans are provided with wages and benefits that allow them to maintain an appropriate standard of living in the community where the position is located.

The bill directs the authority to conduct the pilot program for a period of 18 months and to evaluate the pilot program to determine what impact, if any, the program has in connecting former military personnel with jobs in the construction industry and on the cost of highway projects constructed by the authority. The authority would be required to report the findings of that evaluation to the Governor and the Legislature within 24 months after the bill’s effective date.

“The Helmets-to-Hardhats program has had proven success throughout the country in matching service members with career opportunities,” said Singleton. “It’s a fantastic example of a successful, cooperative effort to help our bravest find gainful employment. With all of the construction projects being undertaken by the Turnpike Authority, this is a practical way to help veterans overcome the challenges of a stagnant economy.”

The second bill (A-2018) in the package would require all public institutions of higher education in New Jersey to improve access to higher educational opportunities for military service members and veterans. Under the bill, all public institutions of higher education in the state would be required to:

  • Provide academic credit transfer practices for military service members when applicable to the service member’s degree program in order to minimize loss of previously earned credit;
  • Limit academic residency requirements for active duty service members to no more than 25 percent of an undergraduate degree program; and
  • Award credit to service members for specialized training and experience acquired in military service when applicable to a service member’s degree program.

“There are so many conditions that limit a service member’s access to higher education, such as their frequent mobility, isolation from campuses, and part-time student status,” said Singleton. “Hopefully, this bill can create a bridge for many of them to overcome these obstacles and successfully obtain degrees.”

The requirements of the bill are based on some of the criteria established by the Service Members Opportunity Colleges (SOC), a civilian-military partnership that was created in 1972 to help improve and coordinate postsecondary educational opportunities for service members who, because military service demands frequent mobility, had trouble completing college degrees. The SOC Consortium currently consists of more than 1,900 college and university members, including 32 institutions of higher education in New Jersey.

The third bill (A-2011) in the package would allow New Jersey taxpayers to make a voluntary contribution to homeless veterans when filing their income tax return. A contribution in the amount of three or six dollars would be applied to a taxpayer’s gross income tax return and deposited in a special fund in the Department of the Treasury, to be known as the “Homeless Veterans Fund.” The funds would be appropriated annually to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for distribution to homeless veterans throughout New Jersey.

“Tragically, there are roughly 7,000-8,000 veterans in New Jersey who are homeless,” said Singleton. “This is a simple and compassionate way for taxpayers to help the brave men and women who have served our nation proudly and are now in need.”

The package of bills within the V.E.T. Act was introduced in the legislature on January 10.