New Jersey Must Introduce Legislation to Help Our Veterans Get Essential Services | Opinion

By Ande Richards

Brett D’Alessandro is a veteran who lives and works in New Jersey. He served in the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2016 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and struggled to reintegrate into mainstream society. He says he and many of the men he served with used drugs and alcohol to cope with the trauma of war.

According to D’Alessandro, many veterans, especially Marines, don’t ask for help, which can hurt them in the long run. But there is another barrier that can prevent veterans from receiving help: their release status.

The Department of Defense issues military discharges (DODs) and their determination affects the benefits veterans can apply for through the Veterans Administration (VA). The DOD and VA are two separate and independent federal agencies, but the level of benefits is generally closely aligned with the type of discharge.

An honorable discharge is the most common, with over 85% of veterans receiving this type of discharge. These veterans are entitled to all VA benefits, including disability compensation, education, health care, job training, and housing. However, benefits are reduced for those with other than honorable discharges (OTH).

New Jersey has more than 8,000 veterans with less than “honorable discharge” and 1,000 OTH who need benefits. The New Jersey Reentry Corporation’s Veterans Justice Awareness Initiative report, “Other Than Honorable Discharge A National Veteran’s Crisis: A New Jersey Solution,” seeks to offer remedies to this lamentable problem.

The statistics are encouraging: 8% of state prisoners are veterans, 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States, and 30% of military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have mental health issues.

“For people who have served our country, there is a clear need to ensure that veterans who wore the national uniform receive basic essential services to help them – in some cases, to rebuild their lives,” said former Governor Jim McGreevey. . “It is extremely important to recognize that, especially for veterans, the trauma of combat is not a normal course, it is not the normal course of life.”

Dr. Ramon Solhkhah, from Hackensack Meridian Health’s department of psychiatry, said we know that about a third of veterans who have returned from fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have a mental health issue. These mental health issues also impact the veteran’s partners, spouses and children.

“You know that mouth dropping a statistic of 22 veterans a day losing their lives to suicide, in other words, that’s one plane crash a week. Imagine the public outcry for the support and the services should this occur.

He says this NJRC report is really a critical first step in trying to address some of those issues. The report gives us a roadmap here in New Jersey, in terms of trying to address these issues in a very broad, systemic way.

The report details that many veterans with THO are discharged due to behavior related to trauma suffered during military service, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and military sexual trauma (STD).

There are ways within the military to obtain upgraded discharges at the general or honorable level, including going through the Discharge Upgrade Review Board (DRB) and determining the character of the discharge ( CODE). However, they are cavernous and time-consuming for veterans who may be dealing with a serious injury or the inability to seek help.

New Jersey Re-Entry report justifies need for legislature to pass legislation that restores benefits to veterans with ‘bad paper discharges’ following PTSD, TBI, an STD, a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” or other trauma-related service.

The legislation would make it easier for veterinarians with OTH discharges to obtain state benefits by creating partnerships and policies that coordinate services for veterans. The bills have the support of Senators Joseph Cryan, Sandra Cunningham, Joseph Vitale and Nicholas Scutari and community partners from Veterans Affairs Health and Administrative Services who would work to create coordinated services for veterans in need of ‘aid.

Vitale said it might be difficult to pass legislation, but thinks they can do it.

“We can’t put ourselves in those shoes, but we can try to imagine what it is. They do not have the opportunity to receive treatment or access mental health services available to others. Because of the OTH dump, it’s not for them. Tragic.”

States such as California, New York and Connecticut have passed laws making it easier for veterans to access services pending the VA’s determination of eligibility. It makes sense that New Jersey would make similar changes.

As USMC veteran D’Alessandro told the group, “We just want relief.”

Ande Richards is new to New Jersey. She wants to hear from New Jersey’s communities of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, and those who feel underserved by mainstream media. It can be attached to arichards@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @angelcitygirl or Twitter @andichards.

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