A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
Veterans’ issues are often contemplated in Albany as we work to protect the rights and benefits of our brave service men and women who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and keep our families safe. The 2018 legislative session was no exception, starting with the state budget which included funding for a number of vital programs. Additionally, we took action on other bills important to our veterans.
Creating the Military Family Relief Fund
Senate bill 9044 establishes the Military Family Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to the families of soldiers who are suffering economically as a result of line-of-duty related injury or illness. All contributions, both corporate and personal, would be credited to the military family relief fund and used to aid military families with housing, food, clothing, and Medicaid expenses. Contributions to the fund will be made through corporate and personal state tax returns.
Establishing a Task Force on Veteran Employment Opportunities
Senate bill 936A creates a task force to study and improve the job market for veterans. The task force, to be made up of stakeholders within state government, the private sector, and institutions of higher education, will be charged with holding annual public hearings and making recommendations to the legislature regarding ways the state can assist those who served our country in finding and maintaining meaningful employment opportunities.
Making it Easier for Minority Veteran Business Owners to Qualify for MWBE
Senate bill 7891 creates a process for minority veterans to become recognized as a certified minority or women-owned business enterprise (MWBE). This bill alleviates some of the burdens veterans looking to qualify for MWBE programs face by allowing veterans to use their DD214 form, issued by the U.S. Department of Defense upon retirement, separation, or discharge from active duty, as proof of race, ethnicity, or other personal information required for enrollment in the program.
All three of these bills passed both the senate and the assembly with overwhelming support and will be sent to the governor shortly for final approval.
The 2018-19 state budget continued the senate-led support for a number of important initiatives, including: $645,000 for the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Program; $500,000 for the NYS Defenders Association Veterans Defense Program; $200,000 for Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project; $200,000 for Helmets to Hardhats; $200,000 for Warrior Salute; $100,000 for the Veterans Justice Project; and $50,000 for the Vietnam Veterans of America New York State Council among other initiatives.
These programs provide valuable services to veterans from mental health counseling to job training and many other helpful topics. In many cases, veterans are in need of specialized assistance and these initiatives are proven winners when it comes to aiding our service men and women.
Another helpful resource now available to veterans is a mobile app designed to help connect veterans with vital services and programs. The app is supported by the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs and includes sections on healthcare, housing, employment, education, and how to file claims for financial benefits. Veterans or their family members can download the free New York State Veterans App by visiting www.ny.gov/mobileapps