As a candidate for governor, Phil Murphy advocated for splitting the state Department of Military and Veterans in two – one focused on the National Guard, the other responsible for serving veterans.

But now that he’s in office, the idea is meeting resistance.

Other states, including Delaware and New York, have split off their active-duty and veterans departments. Murphy contends that it would allow the veterans’ department to focus on vets’ employment, mental health and higher education without also being concerned with the Guard.

Brig. Gen. Jemal Beale, the adjutant general of the New Jersey National Guard, said his department has been studying the issue and developed internal recommendations but that changes would take years – if they happen at all.

“The splitting of the department is not an issue, a top issue right now,” Beale told the Assembly Budget Committee at a recent hearing. “We are looking at it. If it does make sense financially, it could work. But we’re pretty happy with the department the way it is.”

Veterans groups have told Beale they oppose changing the structure, which has been in place for 30 years.

“I think we’re set up for success,” Beale said. “I believe our veterans stakeholders – they’ve spoken to me, they’ve let me know what they want. So I think I’m on message with them.”

The change isn’t proposed in Murphy’s first budget, but Beale told lawmakers the first phase of a feasibility study, as suggested by Murphy’s transition team, was undertaken.

“We have cost projections of $3 (million) to $4 million to split the department, and you all know, $3 (million) to $4 million doesn’t grow on trees,” Beale said. “I’m also a taxpayer and a veteran.”

“I think we have a plan to stay intact for now and keep moving forward, keep killing bad guys, keep taking care of veterans,” he said. “I think we’re good to go.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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