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After attack, Zeldin pushes for Dwyer veterans support program nationwide

J.D. Allen
U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin of New York pushed support for his bill to nationally expand the Joseph P. Dwyer peer-to-peer support program on Long Island August 5, 2022.

U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said he wants to help the veteran who attacked him at a campaign stop last month by expanding peer-to-peer veteran support services nationwide.

Zeldin, the GOP candidate for governor of New York, introduced a bill last year to expand the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program nationally. It helps veterans with mental health issues through peer-to-peer support and uses unconventional therapies like fly fishing to combat the effects of PTSD and brain injuries.

J.D. Allen
Statue of PFC Joseph P. Dwyer in Rocky Hill, capturing the iconic moment he carried young Iraqi boy who was injured in a battle in March 2003.

“I've had countless veterans tell me that because of the Dwyer program, they are alive," Zeldin said at a news conference at the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Statue in Rocky Point. "They have a job. They have a family. They credit the support that they've gotten from the Dwyer program for their ability to be able to cope with the mental wounds of war.”

He urged officials with the Monroe County Dwyer program to support his attacker, David Jakubonis, who’s facing federal assault charges.

“We need to make sure we get him that help," Zeldin said, adding that Jakubonis' mental health issues are still under investigation but might include service-related trauma and substance use. "The Dwyer program exists exactly for this particular moment,” he added.

The Dwyer program started about 10 years ago in Suffolk County and has since expanded throughout New York.

Support for the program is among a few topics where Zeldin agrees with his Democratic opponent, New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

“Hochul is committed to supporting the mental health needs of the veteran community, and fought to secure $7.7 million in critical state budget funding to expand the proven Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Support Program to every community across New York State," said a spokesperson for the governor.

Zeldin has pointed to the July 21 attack in Fairport, New Yor, to simultaneously promote support for his bill to expand peer-to-peer support for veterans nationwide, and slam Hochul for supporting bail reform.

Jakubonis was released from local law enforcement within 24-hours after his tussle with Zeldin. Then, he was detained by federal authorities.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.