Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-Dutchess/Columbia) announced that several bills she authored to help New York veterans access critical services and benefits passed the Assembly on Tuesday. As chair of the Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs, Barrett has been an outspoken advocate, securing new money for veterans programs in the state budget and spearheading innovative legislation. Among the new bills are measures which would remove the mental, behavioral, and human rights stigmas and barriers from New York State policy by providing eligible veterans with access to State benefits, opportunities, and services.
To address these barriers, Barrett authored and helped pass groundbreaking legislation to extend state benefits and services to veterans who served honorably but received less than honorable discharges as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), or for identifying as LGBTQ under policies such as Dont Ask, Dont Tell (A.8097). This discharge effectively bars individuals from receiving most state and federal benefits, noted Barrett. While only the military can change a discharge status, this legislation allows New Yorks veterans to access state level benefits despite not receiving an honorable discharge.
This change in law represents a new approach to treating every veteran with dignity and respect, said Barrett. It is a recognition that historically, some service members were not treated fairly during their time in the military, and are deserving of the same benefits and services that the men and women they fought alongside are eligible for. If signed into law, this legislation will go a long way to counter stigma and to right the wrongs done to the many New Yorkers who served to protect us all.
Further, Barrett sponsors a companion bill which also passed the Assembly on Tuesday requiring the State Division of Veterans Services to maintain a Discharge Advisory Upgrade Board Program that provides written advisory opinions for New York veterans who are appealing their character of discharge (A.8095-A). This forward-thinking program bolsters a New York veterans case for a discharge upgrade and helps them achieve the honorable discharge status that they earned in the first place.
Refusing to recognize the hard work and sacrifices of veterans in the LGBTQ community or those who are struggling with PTSD, TBI, or Military Sexual Trauma, is unequivocally immoral, said Barrett. These individuals honorably fought for our country and our freedoms. Theres no reason bad papers should keep them from accessing the resources they need when they return home.
Additionally, Barrett authored and helped pass legislation to allow disabled active service members to earn a property tax exemption for improvements made to their homes because of a service-connected injury (A.7289). Under current law, veterans are already eligible for a real property tax exemption, and this legislation extends that opportunity to those who continue to serve.
To help servicemen and servicewomen who were injured in the line of duty find employment opportunities, Barrett sponsors and helped pass legislation requiring New York state agencies to prominently display 55-c eligibility on applicable job postings (A.6297). This will ensure disabled veterans can more easily identify the civil service positions available to them.
Barrett also authored and helped pass the Outdoor Rx Act, which would study and develop recommendations to help New York create more nature-based outdoor recreational activities and therapy programs for veterans (A.8094).
We owe an unpayable debt to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect and serve our country. I am committed to working to ease their transition back to civilian life and ensure they receive the recognition and benefits theyve earned, Barrett said. Im immensely proud of the legislation we passed during this legislative session, and hope that these changes in law will offer new hope to veterans and their families who are being left behind through no fault of their own.