Mazzeo, Andrzejczak, Wilson, Mukherji, Moriarty & Benson Bill Package to Boost Care for “Wounded Warriors” Advances

Four-Bill Package is Aimed at Assisting the Growing Number of Family Members Caring for Wounded Veterans in Post-9/11 Era

An Assembly panel on Thursday unanimously approved a four-bill package sponsored by Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo, Sgt. Bob Andrzejczak, Gilbert "Whip" Wilson, Raj Mukherji, Paul Moriarty and Daniel Benson to boost assistance for "wounded warriors" and their caregivers, an ever-growing demographic that faces unique challenges in the post-9/11 era.

The lawmakers were inspired by a number of unsettling statistics regarding the care of wounded veterans in the post-9/11 era, most notably that an estimated 1.1 million civilians are providing volunteer care-giving services to wounded veterans. Meanwhile, a Rand Corporation study conducted last March found that 53 percent of post-9/11 voluntary caregivers have no support network and as many as 40 percent do not have their own health care.

Four-Bill Package is Aimed at Assisting the Growing Number of Family Members Caring for Wounded Veterans in Post-9/11 Era

An Assembly panel on Thursday unanimously approved a four-bill package sponsored by Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo, Sgt. Bob Andrzejczak, Gilbert "Whip" Wilson, Raj Mukherji, Paul Moriarty and Daniel Benson to boost assistance for "wounded warriors" and their caregivers, an ever-growing demographic that faces unique challenges in the post-9/11 era.

The lawmakers were inspired by a number of unsettling statistics regarding the care of wounded veterans in the post-9/11 era, most notably that an estimated 1.1 million civilians are providing volunteer care-giving services to wounded veterans. Meanwhile, a Rand Corporation study conducted last March found that 53 percent of post-9/11 voluntary caregivers have no support network and as many as 40 percent do not have their own health care.

"The purpose of these bills is to help care for whose who are caring for our veterans," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "Care-giving for post-9/11 veterans is a massive economic and societal undertaking that we're facing right now. The enormous sacrifice our military members have made during two wars for over a decade now deserves a better response from our end. Ultimately, these bills will improve the quality of life for veterans wounded in combat by boosting state assistance to help their loved ones care for them."

The sponsors also noted that 12 percent of these voluntary caregivers provide more then 40 hours a week of care, which would equate to $3 billion a year in services if the care were not voluntary. Additionally, studies have shown that employee assistance programs for military caregivers have reduced absenteeism by 43 percent and enhanced work productivity.

"Support for military caregivers is not just the right and necessary thing to do, it also makes good economic sense," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), a retired U.S. Army sergeant who lost his leg while serving in Iraq in 2008. "We can't turn a blind eye to this growing issue when our service men and women have been actively engaged overseas for going on two decades now. While most family members will give selflessly of their time to help a loved one who was wounded in battle, the fact remains that they still need to support themselves, and perhaps other family members, which becomes much harder to do when they have less time to devote to earning a living."

In light of this, the lawmakers put together a six-bill package to help improve the quality of life for wounded warriors by boosting state resources to provide assistance to both them and their caregivers.

The first bill (A3551), sponsored by all five Assemblymen, is entitled the Wounded Warrior Caregivers Relief Act and would provide an income tax credit to family caregivers of certain former armed service members with service-connected disabilities.

The bill sets the refundable qualified veteran care credit at 100 percent of the service member's disability compensation or $675, whichever is less. To qualify for the credit, a caregiver must:

§ Be related to the service member within the third degree;

§ Share a residence with the service member for no less than six months of the year;

§ Have a gross income that does not exceed $100,000 as a joint filer or $50,000 as a single or separate filer.

"When it comes to providing care for a wounded veteran, the responsibilities can take a toll, not just physically and mentally, but financially as well," said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester), a U.S. Air Force veteran in Vietnam. "This bill package will help provide much-needed financial assistance to enable caregivers to continue providing invaluable services to our veterans."

"The care and devotion from family members and caregivers who tend to our wounded warriors often extends a lifetime," said Mukherji (D-Hudson), a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. "By enacting an income tax credit for family caregivers of disabled veterans, creation of a financial planning assistance program, and expansion of respite care, we are showing that New Jerseyans recognize our freedom is not free."

"Oftentimes it's overlooked that those caring for our wounded warriors are spouses or family members who have a number of other responsibilities in their life, such as work, managing households or caring for children, as well," said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). "Financial and planning assistance is, without a doubt, a welcome and much-needed boost for many."

"Caregivers of veterans often devote long hours tending to the needs of their loved one, many times sacrificing their own well-being," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "This can definitely be stressful, both physically and financially. We need to step up and help repay some of the sacrifice our veterans and their family members have made."

The second bill (A-3552), sponsored by Mazzeo, Andrzejczak, Wilson, Mukherji and Benson, would require the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs to provide a financial planning assistance program for disabled veterans and their caregivers in order to assist them with the financial burdens that may arise when a veteran is disabled and needs assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, assistance with mobility, housekeeping, shopping, and driving or transportation.

The third bill (A-3554), sponsored by Mazzeo, Andrzejczak, Wilson, Mukherji and Benson, would increase the income eligibility cap to receive respite care for certain veterans. Current regulations provide that the maximum income level to qualify for the Statewide Respite Care Program is 300 percent of the Federal Supplemental Security Income standard for an individual living alone, and that the person's maximum liquid resources may not exceed $40,000 for a single person or $60,000 for a couple who are both dependent on a caregiver. Under the bill, those income limits would increase to $60,000 for a single person and
$80,000 for a couple.

"It's easy to forget how young many of our wounded veterans are," added Mazzeo. "Many return in their twenties or thirties and have injuries that will prevent them from ever walking again, no less working or being able to support a family. This is the sacrifice they were willing to endure for their country. Now we need to step up to the plate and do all we can to help care for them."

"Hopefully these bills will help boost the level of care our wounded veterans receive, while also increasing their self-sufficiency," added Andrzejczak. "Housing assistance and increased veterans allowances will go a long way towards helping many rebuild their lives without having to rely entirely on family."

The last measure (AJR-76), sponsored by Mazzeo, Andrzejczak, Wilson, Mukherji and Moriarty, would designate the fourth week of March of each year as "Military Caregivers Week" to honor the 5.5 million voluntary, civilian caregivers of the military and veterans in the United States.

All of the bills were approved by the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.