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New York lawmakers ask Hochul to fully fund a veterans PTSD support program

New York Governor Kathy Hochul addresses National Guard troops in New York City on September 11, 2021. She has introduced a bill that would allow National Guard troops who served at Ground Zero on 9/11 to qualify for veterans benefits.
Don Pollard
Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
New York Governor Kathy Hochul addresses National Guard troops in New York City on September 11, 2021.

A bipartisan group of New York lawmakers is asking Governor Kathy Hochul to commit to full funding for a program for New York’s veterans who are coping with PTSD from their time in service.

Senator Sue Serino, a Republican, and Assembly member Didi Barrett, a Democrat, said the program, known as the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Program or Vet2Vet, has been recommended by veterans who have used it. The program offers non-clinical support and assistance for veterans who are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or other mental health challenges. The program is named after Dwyer, who lost his life to PTSD.

Despite the positive outcomes and relatively small price tag of around $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 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.

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 continued.

Serino and Barrett are asking Governor Hochul to include the money in her state budget proposal, due in January. A spokesperson for Hochul, Matt Janiszewski, did not commit to putting the money in to 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 Veterans Day holiday, she’s signed into law several bills affecting Veterans. They include a change to the official date of the Vietnam War from February 28, 1961, to November 1, 1955, to help veterans serving in the conflict before 1961 to 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. A bill signed by the governor also establishes a women veterans advisory committee to offer guidance to the Division of Veterans Services.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, 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.