Lawmakers united on new veterans services agency | New York State

ALBANY — New York lawmakers are coming together on at least one issue during this season of annual state budget negotiations.

Legislative leadership representatives have expressed strong interest in proposing legislation to create a new state Department of Veterans Services – elevating the current Veterans Services Division to a cabinet-level agency. with a Commissioner appointed by the Governor.

Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, housing issues, or other issues may have to go to five or six different state agencies — including the Office of Mental Health, Office of State of Aging, the Office of Addiction Services and Support, among several others – to access benefits they have earned, resulting in confusing claims or distribution of funding.

“…The benefits that you put your life on the line to serve our country, and that you deserve to get,” said Assemblyman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, who is sponsoring the bill at the bedroom.

Barrett served as the first female chair of the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee for nearly four years.

“It would just be intimidating for anyone to have to go to so many different agencies to get your benefits met,” she said. “This is something that I believe New York State must and can do better for our veterans and for our military families.”

The state’s Veterans Services Division was established in 1945 for veterans returning from World War II.

The state has more than 800,000 veterans, more than half of whom are over the age of 65, but only about 17 percent of the population has access to their benefits and eligible services under the current structure, which has remained unchanged over the past seven and a half decades. .

Dozens of lawmakers, veterans and lawyers rallied outside the Million Dollar Staircase in the state Capitol this week to urge Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders, the majority leader in Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers; and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; to include the new department’s funding bill in the budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which expires on April 1.

“We look forward to working with our dedicated Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee Chairman, Senator John Brooks, to make his crucial legislation a reality,” the Democratic spokesperson for the House of Commons said on Tuesday. Senate, Jonathan Heppner, in a press release.

Assembly members quickly withdrew the bill from the Veterans Affairs Committee on January 5. He was referred to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Jan. 25 and remains on the Senate Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee.

“We will discuss this issue with our members,” said Michael Whyland, spokesman for the House Majority Democrats.

The current director of the Veterans Services Division is a member of the governor’s cabinet.

“The Division of Veterans Services has been an invaluable resource that has provided positive outcomes for New York’s veterans and their families, and will continue to do so regardless of the agency’s structure,” a spokesperson for Hochul’s office in a statement. “Governor. Hochul has fought throughout her career to ensure veterans receive the support they deserve and will continue to work with stakeholders and legislators to meet the needs of veterans across the country. ‘State.

Sen. John Brooks, D-Massapequa; said programs for veterans need to be expanded and officials need to work harder to reach and help the military.

“Our veterans are heroes of many wars…many of them have faced different challenges,” said Brooks, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee. “Many had addiction issues and mental health issues. We have veterans who are homeless, we have veterans who are looking for work. We must recognize that it is time to elevate this department.

The proposal is backed by both Republicans and Democrats, with multiple co-sponsors from either chamber on both sides of the political aisle.

Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-Castleton, is a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, and toured Iraq and Afghanistan as a medic during his service from 2006 to 2014. He thanked lawmakers for

“When you think about what this legislation aims to do, you’re like, ‘How has this not happened before? “, Ashby said. “It’s not a Democratic or Republican notion. It’s the right thing to do.

If passed into law, all of New York’s veterans programs would be streamlined into one location and more easily accessible to service members and their families.

The new veterans-centric department would parallel the federal model and successful veterans departments in other states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Commanding Sgt. Maj. Gary Flaherty, director of Veterans Services for Columbia County and a Vietnam veteran, rallied with lawmakers at the state Capitol on Monday. Flaherty advocates annually for veterans in Albany to urge legislative support and funding for veterans programs, including the PFC. Peer-to-Peer Program for Veterans Joseph P. Dwyer.

The bill would add language outlining the agency’s specific duties to coordinate outreach efforts for veterans to ensure they receive their rights to housing, employment, mental health, education and other benefits in all state departments.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much to serve us all, and we must do better as a state when it comes to providing them with the resources they need to reintegrate into civilian life,” co-sponsored Senator Michelle Hinchey , D-Saugerties, said in a statement. “I strongly support the creation of a Department of Veterans Services as a centralized office that will increase the needs of veterans statewide and make critical program offerings more accessible to them and their families. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill and will continue to advocate alongside my colleagues until the Veterans Affairs Division is elevated to full department status so that every veteran receives the quality support they need. needs when he returns home to New York.

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