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Lawmakers Ask Hochul To Fully Fund Veterans Support Program

Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project/ Source:

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers are asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to commit to full funding for a program for New York’s veterans who are coping with post-traumatic stress disorder from their time in service.

Sen. Sue Serino, a Republican, and Assemblymember Didi Barrett, a Democrat, said the program -- known as the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Program, or Vet2Vet -- has been considered a success by veterans who have used it. It offers nonclinical support and assistance for veterans who are struggling with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other mental health challenges. The program's namesake suffered from PTSD, which was cited as a cause in his 2008 death.

Despite the positive outcomes and relatively small price tag of about $5 million, Serino said veterans’ groups and their supporters in the Legislature have had to lobby to get the money included in the state budget. She said that's because the previous governor, Andrew Cuomo, consistently left the program out of his executive budget proposal.

“Each year, despite the program’s stunning success rate, our veterans are forced to travel to Albany to advocate for funding for the program,” Serino said. "Every single budget season."

Michelle Noonan is one of the veterans who recounted how the program helped her overcome some of the darkest days of her life.

“If it wasn’t for the Vet2Vet program, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Noonan, who added she now can help other veterans.

“It’s a place where I know I won’t be mocked for having PTSD,” she said.

Serino and Barrett are asking Hochul to include the money in her state budget proposal, which is due in January. A spokesperson for Hochul, Matt Janiszewski, did not commit to putting the money in the executive budget but promised to “work with stakeholders and the Legislature during the upcoming budget process to address the needs of veterans across the state."

The governor did announce that in honor of the holiday, she’s signed into law several bills affecting veterans.

They include a change to the official date of the Vietnam War from Feb. 28, 1961, to Nov. 1, 1955, to help veterans serving in the conflict before 1961 become eligible for benefits. Another allows spouses of people in the military to receive unemployment benefits if they have to leave their job and move because their partner has received a military transfer.

Other new laws provide in-state tuition at public New York state and city universities for students if their parents are active-duty military newly stationed in the state. Hochul also signed a bill that establishes a women veterans advisory committee to offer guidance to the Division of Veterans Services.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.