Assemblymen Jake Ashby (R,C,I,Ref-Castleton) and Kevin Byrne (R,C,Ref-Mahopac) co-hosted a “Voices for Veterans” event, alongside their colleagues in the Assembly MinorityConference, today at the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet to Vet Outreach Center & Mental Health Association in Putnam County, Inc. office in Brewster, where they called for the immediate restoration of Gov. Cuomo’s planned $5.68 million cuts to veterans’ services. Preceding the press conference, Byrne hosted a special tour of veterans’ services and programs in Putnam County which included the Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park, the United For The Troops office space, the Putnam County Veterans’ Residence, Pegasus Therapeutic Riding, and the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet to Vet outreach center.
Gov. Cuomo’s proposed 2020-2021 Executive Budget takes aim at initiatives that range from helping soldiers manage PTSD and mental health challenges, to enabling veterans to find job-training and successful careers, to improving access to VA services and quality health care.
“I’m honored to stand with my colleagues in the Legislature, many of whom have served in the military, as we call for full restoration and expansion of funding vital to veterans in need of assistance. It is absurd and disgraceful that, once again, the governor’s proposed Executive Budget includes drastic cuts to mental health support for our veterans, including the complete elimination of funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer peer counseling program, which has been invaluable to veterans in my district,” said Byrne. “These brave men and women have already sacrificed so much for our country, the least we can do is offer them the help they deserve. Rest assured, I will continue to advocate relentlessly for the Joseph P. Dwyer peer counseling program and other veterans’ mental health initiatives.”
“Our veterans and their families have sacrificed so much to serve and protect our great nation. They have more than earned our support – this is why I am fighting to restore $6 million in funding for veterans’ programs,” said Ashby, the ranking Republican member on the Assembly Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Every year the governor tries to chip away at funding for veterans – funding that provides mental health services and critical help with the transition to civilian life. We won’t let him get away with it. New York must restore its support and commitment to veterans now.”
The largest cut proposed is to the wildly-successful, popular Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Program. The governor’s budget eliminates more than $4 million from the counseling program that allows veterans to connect with other men and women who have served in the Armed Forces and are facing challenges similar to their own.
“Illegal immigrants, convicted felons, special interests, as well as the industries and individuals that donate to the governor, never have their funding zeroed out. That only seems to happen to New York’s veterans,” said Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I-East Fishkill). “Gov. Cuomo eliminates the relatively small amount of funding for veterans programs, including peer-to-peer mental health counseling, so he can use it as a chip to be bargained back into the budget by the Legislature after he exacts a price. This is shameless, even by Albany’s standards. In the case of veterans’ mental health funding, he is literally risking the lives of veterans to use as a bargaining tool. I don’t know how he sleeps at night.”
“Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to protect our state and our nation, and protecting their right to mental health and peer counseling services is our moral obligation. In a budget as large and sprawling as New York’s, funding veterans’ programs should be a top priority and we should be discussing expanding these initiatives rather than cutting them,” said Assemblyman Karl Brabenec (R,C,I-Deerpark). “I stand with veterans across the Hudson Valley and New York in calling on the governor to restore funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Program and other critical veterans’ services in this year’s budget.”
“The loss of a single dollar of funding to these critical veterans’ programs and services is unacceptable. Full restoration is needed in the final budget. These programs have had a significant positive impact on veterans in our community and across the state,” said Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R,C,I-New Windsor). “This restoration should be non-partisan and receive no opposition. Our brave veterans volunteered to serve our state and nation, putting their lives on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy every day. I will continue to work in a non-partisan fashion to successfully restore this funding.”
Among some of the other veteran-related programs facing funding cuts are:
- Helmets-to-Hardhats: $200,000—Assists post-9/11 veterans’ transition into careers in the building trades.
- Clear Path for Veterans:$200,000—Serves as a key source for veterans in upstate New York to access resources and programs including professional skills and training development, peer and wingman services and K-9 therapy programs.
- NYS Defenders Association Veterans Defense Program:$500,000—Provides training, legal assistance and support to provide representation of veterans and service members involved in the criminal or family court systems.
- SAGE Veterans Project:$100,000—SAGE advocates and offers services that help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults who are veterans of military service improve their access to the VA and other veteran services, as well as support their overall health and wellness.
- Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project:$200,000—Provides assistance with applying for veterans benefits and representation before the Board of Veterans Appeals and in federal court, at no cost to veterans, when benefits are denied.
The Conference is also pushing to codify the expansion of the MERIT scholarship program by enacting it into law. After public outrage about the scholarship being blocked in Committee last year – preventing the expansion of the program – an executive action was issued to increase the program ensuring the children of deceased and disabled veterans would receive the benefits they truly deserve. Members of the Assembly Minority Conference are now pushing for the scholarship to be properly passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
Assemblyman Ashby has called on Gov. Cuomo to immediately restore funding and expand the services and programs for our veterans and their families which he has yet again proposed cutting from the state budget. Please join him and let the governor and Legislature know this is unacceptable and has once again placed our lawmakers, advocates and veterans in a position to fight tooth-and-nail for what should be essential rather than advocating for the long-overdue expansion of these programs and services. Sign the petition now and let the governor know – We Are New York Voices for Veterans.