Veterans Sound Off On Service Cuts, Fight Back
This week, members of the Assembly Minority Conference, led by Assemblyman Jake Ashby (R,C,I,Ref-Castleton)a U.S. veteranhave met with veterans around the state to discuss budget cuts to counseling, job training and legal services being proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor has called for cutting $5.68 million of veterans services including a $4 million cut to the extremely successful Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Program.
The first four meetings were held in the Buffalo, Rochester, Watertown and Utica areas, with additional events planned in the coming weeks. During these events, our members heard from veterans and veterans service organizations that rely on these services and witness firsthand the positive impacts they have in their communities. Among some of the veteran-related programs facing funding cuts are:
Helmets-to-Hardhats: $200,000Assists post-9/11 veterans transition into careers in the building trades.
Clear Path for Veterans: $200,000Serves 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: $500,000Provides training, legal assistance and support to provide representation of veterans and service members involved in the criminal or family court systems.
SAGE Veterans Project: $100,000SAGE 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: $200,000Provides 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.
We are also pushing to codify the expansion of the MERIT scholarship program 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. Now, we are asking it be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
A common theme emerged from our meetings; funding for veteran services should never, ever be used as a budgetary bargaining chip. The governors cuts are comprehensive and deep. He is suggesting not a reduction in services for veterans, but their functional elimination. This is simply unacceptable.
That fact that we need to hold statewide meetings and have these discussions is highly distressing. New Yorks heroes, who have risked their lives to protect our democracy and the very budget process that puts their services at risk, deserve so much more. In the coming weeks, we hope to hear from more of these heroes about how damaging eliminating these services will be and I hope their words are not ignored.
One thing remains certain, protecting and honoring those who have sacrificed so much to defend our nation is one of our fundamental responsibilities. The Assembly Minority Conference remains committed to fighting for our veterans just as they fought for us.