One hundred years ago this week, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first-ever Armistice Day, a holiday to celebrate peace, heroism, and gratitude for those who have served. It wasn't until 1947 that this holiday's name was changed to "Veterans Day," but even before then, our country understood the importance of recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of those who defend our nation. As President Wilson said on November 11, 1919, “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service, and with gratitude for the victory” - a sentiment that lasts to this day.
In the past century since Veterans Day was established, our veterans have participated in armed defensive and peacekeeping conflicts across the globe. Over the decades, our nation has celebrated our veterans with gratitude and thanks, such as when America founded the Veterans Administration in 1930, or enacted pro-veteran legislation like the G.I. bill following World War II, which helped veterans afford a mortgage, start a business, or obtain higher education.
With these programs and services, we’ve made great strides in paying back the sacrifices that our veterans make in defense of our nation, both at home and abroad. Even so, veterans today face challenges both new and old, from homelessness to drug addiction, hunger, and affordability. If we want to show “gratitude for the victory” and “pride in the heroism” of our troops, we need to keep working to make sure that no veteran has to fight these battles alone.
That starts with supporting vital social services, investing in affordable housing, mental healthcare, and food assistance for those in need. In the wake of the opioid crisis - an epidemic that has affected far too many servicemen and women - New Jersey must continue to invest in rehabilitation, prevention, and evidence-based treatments for those suffering from addiction.
When it comes to affordability, state and local taxes can be a challenge for any New Jerseyan. Even so, given complicating factors like high healthcare costs, our veterans can often struggle to make ends meet come Tax Day. This year, the legislature passed a new law doubling the veterans’ income tax deduction - a big asset to any veteran who’s balancing their checkbooks.
It has been an honor to work alongside Gary Baldwin, a retired Air Force veteran and Council President in Tinton Falls, to support his 18-year mission to expand the veterans’ property tax deduction to residents of continuing care retirement homes. I couldn’t have been prouder to see New Jersey voters approve this expansion this past Election Day, and I thank every veteran whose courage, leadership, and resilience helped us finally get this done.
As Chair of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, I believe that new policy needs to come from the bottom-up - from veterans at home, not legislators in Trenton. That’s why I encourage you to contact me to let me know what challenges you face, and how the Garden State can work to improve your life and better honor our veterans. The challenges we face won’t be easy, but with your leadership, I believe that we can make a real difference for those who served.
You can contact my office at (732) 695-3371, or by email at SenGopal@njleg.org. Thank you for your service, and a happy hundredth Veterans Day to all - my door is always open to you.