Committees Pass Bills to Help Female Veterans

By Christie Duffy

Two Assembly committees convened Wednesday to hear issues from female vets. What they found? Women who come home to New Jersey after serving our country are not treated the same as their male counterparts.

“That is discrimination and it is something we don’t tolerate when it comes down to sexuality, race and I’m certain we’re not gonna tolerate it when it comes down to your military service,” said Assemblywoman Grace Spencer.

Army veteran Lesly Johnson says she applied to be a police officer. Veterans are given preferential treatment over other applicants. But because Johnson was pregnant and never deployed to an active war zone, she says she was denied.

“They denied my veterans preference for the application,” Johnson, of Paterson, said. When asked if that essentially denies you were a veteran, she said, “According to them, yes. Because I didn’t serve on war grounds.”

“That seems terribly unfair,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

Schaer chairs the Budget Committee. The chair of this meeting, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, says a law unique to New Jersey prohibits veterans who didn’t see combat from receiving certain benefits. She’s sponsoring a bill to change that. She calls it the “A Vet is a Vet Bill,” but says it’s stalled in the legislature over a $250 veterans tax credit that’s also included.

“It would seem that one of the most basic priorities would be to ensure that no one is being discriminated against and everyone is being treated equally and fairly. And I’m simply appalled this morning. I had no idea this was the case,” Schaer said.

Other female vets testified that their access to health care has also stalled.

The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs reported Wednesday that mammograms are often not conducted at VA medical centers because they don’t have the machinery. Female vets are sent elsewhere. But they say sometimes doctors deny them an appointment.

“Because the providers claim they don’t get paid in a timely manner by the Veterans Administration, the federal government,” said Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Raymond Zawacki.

For Navy veteran Holly Stoll, the threat of breast cancer is real.

“I have had several family members die from it. It’s one of my worries,” Stoll, of Branchville, said. “And to find out we can’t get one?”

Two bills that would help veterans went before the committee for a vote today. One would establish in-state travel assistance to treatment programs. The other would set up a website with information specifically for female veterans.

Both bills passed in committee and will now head to the Assembly for a vote.

As for the “A Vet is a Vet Bill,” that’s stalled over a $250 tax credit. Lawmakers say they plan to rework it and reintroduce it in committee.