Currently, only veterans who served during designated wartime service periods are eligible for the hiring preference.
TRENTON — State Sen. Troy Singleton kicked off his first meeting as leader of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee by helping to advance legislation to extend the hiring preference for Civil Service jobs to all veterans and disabled veterans, rather than just those who served during war times.
Singleton, who was named the Senate committee’s new chair last month, chose to make the bill the first the committee would consider Monday during its meeting. It was advanced by a unanimous 5-0 vote.
The measure would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to expand eligibility for civil service preference to any veteran who was honorably discharged after serving at least six months of federal active duty or a disabled veteran who experienced a service-related injury or who is receiving disability retirement benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Currently, only veterans who served — and in some cases were injured — during designated wartime service periods are eligible for the hiring preference. Those periods include World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans groups have long advocated in favor of so-called “vet is a vet” legislation to extend the Civil Service preference and other veterans benefits to those who served during the Cold War and so-called peacetime. But most of those measures have stalled.
Civil Service rules govern how the state government and many local governments hire and promote public employees. The veterans preference does not permit an unqualified candidate from receiving preference, but it does give a veteran preference for positions or promotions if candidates are considered equally qualified.
Under the measure, veterans who served or were injured in war times would continue to receive preference over other veterans.
Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, who is the prime sponsor of the Civil Service bill, said changing the preference so that more veterans qualify is another way to make New Jersey more “veteran-friendly.”
“Certainly, one must be qualified for the job, so while their military service enhances their chances for employment, it in no way diminishes the skills or experience that is expected in any Civil Service job,” he said. “These are highly motivated men and women and we will be the better for having them in our civilian workforce.”
Robert McNulty, legislative chairman of the Fleet Reserve Association Northeast/New England Region, testified in favor of the measure before the committee, describing it as the “right thing to do,” particularly for disabled veterans.
“They’re disabled regardless of when and where it happened,” McNulty said.
In addition to the Civil Service bill, the committee voted to approve several other veterans-related bills, including a measure that would allow the New Jersey Adjutant General in the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs to enter into agreements with law firms and other public or private entities to help fund legal services for homeless veterans or veterans at risk of homelessness.
The legal services could include assistance or representation related to foreclosure or eviction cases; assistance receiving public benefits; family law matters such as child support, divorce or estate family; criminal defense for matters such as outstanding warrants, fines and driver’s license revocation and other matters symptomatic of homelessness.
The bill is sponsored by Singleton and is based on similar federal legislation introduced by Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty that would allow the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into similar partnerships for legal services for veterans. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, is a co-sponsor of the measure.
Singleton said veterans made sacrifices in defense of the nation and the state should assist them in any way possible.
One local example involved Walter Perry, a 93-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran who was nearly evicted from his North Hanover home last year after he failed to comply with the terms of a reverse mortgage. A Superior Court judge stopped the eviction in order to give the elderly veteran more time to find legal help.
Singleton said Perry’s case was one example of how the legislation could help veterans in need.
“While it wasn’t the direct impetus for the bill, it was on my mind as we moved it forward through committee,” he said Tuesday.
The bill was advanced by the committee by a 5-0 vote.