Reinforcing his commitment to New Jersey's veterans, National Guard members and their families, Governor Chris Christie today signed legislation that creates and enhances assistance tools that provide financial support and peer counseling services through the New Jersey National Guard State Family Readiness Council Fund and the Veteran to Veteran Peer Support Program telephone helpline.
"Every day, the brave men and women of the New Jersey National Guard put their personal lives on hold, leaving not only their loved ones, but their jobs behind, to defend our nation and American values," said Governor Christie. "These difficult times are made even more stressful when a family's key source of income is lost due to deployment. Today, I am proud to sign legislation establishing the New Jersey National Guard State Family Readiness Council Fund.
"I'm equally pleased to sign S-1731, establishing the Veteran to Veteran Peer Support Program telephone helpline. Serving in a combat zone puts overwhelming stress on the mind and body that the average New Jerseyan will never know. So, this program is a critical component of the healing process in the long-term mental health of our service members who return from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as veterans of previous conflicts. I believe it is only fitting that we take every opportunity to recognize the sacrifice of these service members and their families and provide whatever assistance we can as a token of our gratitude and appreciation for their service to our state and our country," added Governor Christie.
Through the New Jersey National Guard State Family Readiness Council Fund, Garden State residents now will be able to help National Guard members and their families during difficult times by voluntarily contributing to the fund by checking a box on their yearly income tax forms. As a result of A-2286, National Guard members and their families will get the support they need, especially when a wage earner has temporarily left civilian employment to be placed on active military duty.
Funds donated by the public will be collected through the state Division of Taxation and then distributed by the New Jersey National Guard Family Readiness Council, a non-profit organization whose main goal is to assist and support the families of deployed New Jersey National Guard members. Founded in 2004, the Council provides education, counseling, financial planning and other support services. In January 2010, the Readiness Council was one of the three organizations recognized by Governor Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie for their work and received a $141,000 donation from contributions generated through the Governor's Inaugural.
Through S-1731, an annual appropriation will be designated for the Veteran to Veteran Peer Support Program telephone helpline. The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA), in conjunction with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, currently operate a 24-hour toll free peer support telephone helpline that provides access to a comprehensive mental health provider network of mental health professionals specializing in post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other emotional and psychological disorders. The peer counselors are trained in other veterans' issues that range from marriage and family life to substance abuse and stress management. All services are free, confidential and available seven days a week. Additional information can be found at http://www.njveteranshelpline.org/.
"Over the past decade, the New Jersey National Guard has deployed more than 15,000 service members around the globe safeguarding our state and nation," said Major General Glenn K. Rieth, the Adjutant General of New Jersey who oversees the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and serves as commander of the New Jersey National Guard. "These bills reaffirm the Governor's commitment to our veterans and our New Jersey National Guard members and their families who sacrifice so much for our freedom."
In addition to supporting all of the vital programs provided by DMAVA, Governor Christie has signed legislation that strengthens the support network for military families after the death of a service member, as well as a program that awards high school diplomas to veterans who dropped out to serve in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In January, he signed legislation for the Gold Star Families license plate to honor the families of members of the military killed in action for their sacrifice.
"New Jersey's servicemen and women have made tireless sacrifices for our state and country," said Neil Van Ess, State Commander of the New Jersey Military Order of the Purple Heart. "Thanks to Governor Christie's support, our military veterans and their families will continue to have unlimited access to mental health services and peer counselors as they need it. In addition, National Guard members and their families can rest a little easier knowing they have a source of assistance to get through the difficult times associated with deployments."
Sponsors of A-2286 include Assemblymembers Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen), Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and Jack Conners (D-Burlington, Camden).
Sponsors of S-1731 include Senators Fred H. Madden, Jr. (D-Camden, Gloucester) and James Beach (D-Camden) and Assemblymembers Jack Conners (D-Burlington, Camden), Cleopatra G. Tucker (D-Essex), and Paul D. Moriarty (D-Camden, Gloucester).