Somerset County Provides Varied Services to Veterans
Veterans ranging from World War II, Korea and Vietnam to more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have a tireless advocate ready to assist them and their families: the Somerset County Office of Veterans Services.
Veterans Services Director Peter Niemiec provided an update on his office’s many programs at a recent Board of Freeholders’ meeting. He is a U.S. Navy veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf War.
“Your office has an impressive track record,” said Freeholder Director Patrick Scaglione. “Our veterans are lucky to have you and your staff dedicated to assisting them in a variety of ways.”
Somerset County is one of 14 of New Jersey’s 21 counties that have a dedicated county Veterans Service Office. This allows veterans to apply for benefits locally rather having to travel to the Newark Regional Office for help. In 2017, Somerset County’s three-person staff handled 868 office visits.
Veterans Services requires specialized training and federal accreditation by the Department of Veteran Affairs General Counsel. VA accreditation grants the office special privileges such as offsite access to its claim files in the Veterans Benefits Management System. The office can represent Somerset County veterans at local hearings and also with the Board of Veterans Appeals. In many cases they also can sign documents on the veteran’s behalf.
New Jersey currently has 398,000 veterans, including approximately 33,000 women. Somerset County has an estimated 13,000 veterans, not including National Guard and Ready Reserve.
The largest group in Somerset County is Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans. But with current trends, a surge of Iraq, Afghanistan and Southwest Asia Veterans seeking additional services is anticipated.
Key areas for Vietnam veterans include health care, treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange-related illnesses, wellness programs and alternative therapies, and widows’ benefits. Vietnam veterans now are at retirement age and rely more on VA benefits and the services of the county veterans office. Alternative treatments include equine therapy and the Vets in Tune program for PTSD veterans at the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center of Somerset County.
For Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, key areas are suicide prevention (on average, 22 veterans per day nationally die by suicide), health care, employment, legal assistance, GI Bill, PTSD treatment and alternative therapy, financial aid and affordable housing. The signature disability from the War on Terror is traumatic brain injury as a result of roadside bombs. Iraq veterans have suffered respiratory problems caused by burn pits. The county office encourages returning veterans to enroll for treatment through the VA Health Care System.
The Office of Veterans Services most often handles disability compensation and low-income pensions. Compensation is paid for wounds and disabilities incurred as a result of service. Amounts range from $136 per month to over $3,000 per month for a veteran who is 100-percent disabled. Also, 100-percent wartime veterans receive a full property tax exemption from the State of New Jersey.
In many cases Niemiec’s office is recovering a higher dollar amount per veteran than other counties in the state. The last VA Geographic Distribution of Expenditures report by county and congressional districts shows over $28 million was paid to the veterans of Somerset County for compensation and pension alone in 2016.
Other services for veterans include a court diversion program and various outreach programs in cooperation with other veterans’ organizations, such as the newly formed Raritan Valley Veterans Alliance for student veterans at Raritan Valley Community College.
For more information about the many programs and services provided to Somerset County veterans, contact Peter Niemiec at (908) 704-6329 or firstname.lastname@example.org The office is located in the county human services building at 27 Warren St., Somerville, NJ 08876. Visit their website at www.co.somerset.nj.us/veterans