WILDWOOD — Gov. Chris Christie, speaking at the 94th annual state Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Wednesday, said helping veterans cope with the psychological scars of combat is essential for the health of New Jersey’s veterans.
Last week, Christie spoke to the American Legion convention, also in Wildwood, and addressed similar veterans issues.
On Wednesday, he told a joint session of the VFW and the ladies’ auxiliary that while he is working to help veterans and their spouses find employment after their service, he is particularly focused on helping to reduce the damage done by post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
The VFW has 40,000 members in New Jersey and more than 2 million across the nation.
Some, he said, come back from serving in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan unscathed.
“Others come through that experience and feel the effects for the rest of their lives,” Christie said.
Christie said the state Department of Veterans Affairs does try to help, but the agency is falling short.
“When 25 veterans commit suicide in America every day, we are missing the boat,” he said.
Christie has proposed forming a study commission to look into ways to help veterans suffering from PTSD.
The state has a 24-hour hot line that veterans suffering from PTSD may call to talk to other veterans.
Christie also told the veterans organization about initiatives he put forward in response to first lady Michelle Obama’s call to help veterans seeking work after they have served.
Those measures include expanding the definition of a veteran under civil-service rules that give honorably discharged veterans some hiring preferences, allowing veterans with medical training and experience to become certified emergency medical technicians, and extending the validity of occupational licenses veterans hold to one full year after leaving the military.
Last week, 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 temporary teaching certificates in New Jersey rather than waiting lengthy periods to get certified here.
A similar measure would allow nurses to do the same.
“When that mother or father comes home from military service, they don’t need these petty little obstacles to be put in front of them,” Christie said.
VFW state Legislative Director Bill Thomson, a marine who served in Vietnam, said the governor’s initiatives are welcome.
“It is important for their
psyche,” Thomson said. “They have been taught to believe they are an indomitable force and then come home to feel helpless.”
Thomson said helping veterans find employment was crucial.
“They were able to take care of their country, and now they’re having a hard time taking care of their families,” he said.
Contact Trudi Gilfillian: