WILDWOOD — Gov. Chris Christie was warmly received Thursday morning at the American Legion convention as he announced initiatives to help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and looking for jobs after they complete their service.
The governor, speaking before members of 335 American Legion posts throughout New Jersey, proposed a commission to look into ways to help returning veterans suffering from PTSD.
A previous Christie initiative set up a 24-hour hot line that veterans suffering from PTSD could call to talk to fellow veterans. But Christie said the state has to do more, and the PTSD Study Commission will look at ways to combat a “really tragic problem.”
He said there would be veterans on the commission, and he asked the legion, an organization of veterans who served in wartime, to be involved.
“We need to lower the incidents of suicide. PTSD is a tragedy, and it’s a tragedy born of service and selflessness,” Christie said.
Before speaking to delegates at the convention, Christie, who is running for re-election in November against Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono, signed legislation making it easier for military spouses who are teachers to get jobs in New Jersey.
Christie said those serving in the military routinely get transferred, and their spouses hold teaching certificates in other states but may have to wait more than one year in New Jersey to get certified. The legislation allows them to quickly get a temporary teaching certificate.
Christie also announced several initiatives related to a call by first lady Michelle Obama in February for states to take action to remove obstacles veterans face in re-entering the work force. Christie said he would ask legislators to approve the new initiatives.
The first would assist veterans interested in becoming emergency medical technicians. It would apply to veterans who have military training and experience in that field and seek to become certified in New Jersey.
Another proposal would extend the validity of occupational licenses veterans hold while they are away serving their country. New Jersey law already keeps such licenses in place when members of the military are on active duty and for 120 days after they leave the armed forces. Christie wants to extend it to one full year after leaving the military.
Christie also wants state colleges and universities to give veterans academic credits for military experience and training.
“This training has value. We don’t value it enough, and I think we should,” he said.
The governor also wants to expand the definition of a veteran under Civil Service rules that give honorably discharged veterans some hiring preferences.
Christie said he would ask the Legislature to pass bills supporting his initiatives.
“This administration will remain deeply committed to getting veterans jobs. The greatest social program is a job,” Christie said.
Though not a veteran himself, Christie serves as commander in chief of the New Jersey Army National Guard and New Jersey Air National Guard. He said he is a longtime supporter of the American Legion, which was founded in 1919 and has posts in all 21 counties in New Jersey.
This is the New Jersey American Legion’s 95th convention. The past 56 have been held in Wildwood. The three-day event, which continues today and includes a parade Saturday, drew about 700 veterans from throughout the state, American Legion Department Adjutant John Baker said.
Christie said 460,000 veterans live in New Jersey. There are currently 83,000 on active duty in the New Jersey National Guard.
The governor also signed an executive order right before he spoke that would set up a task force to look into preserving, enhancing and strengthening military installations in the state. He said the installations pump billions of dollars into the economy and provide thousands of jobs. The order creates a five-person New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force.
Christie has been applauded by veterans groups in the past. He outlined a number of new programs last year at the VFW convention, also held at the Wildwoods Convention Center, including transitional housing and vocational help for veterans. Christie also pushed initiatives to make it easier for veterans to get occupational licenses, commercial driver’s licenses and for military spouses who are nurses to get licensed in New Jersey.
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