Republican Assemblymen Jake Ashby and Angelo Morinello, both veterans themselves, held the first “Voices for Veterans” event at the Niagara Falls VFW Post 917. They called for the immediate restoration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s planned $5.68 million cuts to veterans’ services.
They said Cuomo’s proposed 2020-21 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.
“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 elected leaders said the largest cut proposed is to the 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.
“Playing politics with our heroes’ well-being is despicable and an inexcusable budget tactic. The funding for services Andrew Cuomo has proposed eliminating, like the highly effective Joseph Dwyer veterans peer counseling program, is critical to the reintegration of veterans into their communities and the state’s workforce,” Morinello said. “These men and women risked their lives for us; the disrespect they and their families have been shown by this budget stunt is disgraceful. These cuts must be reversed immediately.”
The Assembly members said some of the other veteran-related programs facing funding cuts are:
•“Helmets-to-Hardhats” ($200,000), which assists post-9/11 veterans’ transition into careers in the building trades.
•“Clear Path for Veterans” ($200,000), which serves as a key source for veterans in upstate New York to access resources and programs such as professional skills and training development, peer and wingman services and K-9 therapy programs.
•New York State Defenders Association Veterans Defense Program ($500,000), which 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), which 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), which 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.
A press release noted, “The conference is also pushing to codify the expansion of the MERIT scholarship program for Gold Star Families by enacting it into law. After public outrage about the scholarship being threatened last year, the program was temporarily saved due to an executive order. Members of the Assembly Minority Conference are pushing for the scholarship to be properly passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.”
Ashby will co-host events in regions across New York with Assembly minority members.