In 2007, I was appointed Chair of the Subcommittee on Women Veterans. I also serve on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the Assembly.
To help the thousands of military families who have disrupted their lives to serve, I have supported education benefits, tax breaks and restrictions on foreclosures. I also supported laws that help veterans and their families long after military service, which award a $500 annual annuity to Gold Star parents of deceased veterans and establish a real property tax exemption for Cold War veterans.
In response to the increasing mental health concerns of veterans and troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I personally authored a law add two new members to the Mental Health Services Council (MHSC). With so many troops returning from multiple tours with various mental health issues, it is critical that our state’s mental health services address their needs. The MHSC, created in 1982, establishes statewide goals and objectives for services to persons with mental illness and reviews mental health services programs prepared by the Office of Mental Health (OMH).
In 2009, I worked with the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to host a conference in Binghamton on “Veteran Friendly Campuses” for regional colleges and universities. The event helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by veterans in higher education and discuss the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Professionals from 9 regional colleges and universities, as well as the Broome-Tioga and Chenango, Otsego, Delaware Workforce Investment Boards attended the event.
Among the student population, veterans experience a high drop–out rate despite strong tuition assistance. This high rate of failure to retain former military can be attributed in great part to lack of a support system on campus to help veterans transition from military to student life. Many veterans experience feelings of alienation from the rest of the student population and they are often unaware of the full range of benefits to which they are entitled.
The conference was an important step in making our campuses better for those men and women who have given so much. It was an opportunity for higher education professionals to meet with representatives from the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs and to speak with other administrators about veteran related issues in higher education. Together, we can limit the obstacles facing veterans and ensure that they achieve success in our colleges and universities.
Also of local interest, I secured $12,500 in funding for the POW/MIA memorial at the American Legion George F. Johnson Post 1700 in Endicott. The memorial, completed by Endicott Artistic Memorial, includes granite benches, a memorial plaque and a security lighting system.