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Guest op-ed: Delivering for veterans in 2019

On Nov. 11, 1919, Armistice Day was celebrated throughout the free world as World War I came to an end. As the German delegation signed the terms of peace just north of Paris, the Allied coalition could rest easy knowing that brutal war of attrition had finally come to an end.

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution calling for an annual observance of Armistice Day, and in 1938, Veterans Day as we know it became a national holiday. Veterans Day is an important day of observance as Americans — regardless of color or creed — come together to thank veterans and give thanks to living veterans who have served our country during peacetime or war. 

New York is home to over 600,000 veterans who bravely served our United States. This year, like every year, I was proud to fight and win for our New York vets. When Gov. Cuomo proposed $5.7 million in cuts to veterans’ programs in the 2019-20 state budget, I stood up and fought against it.

When Assembly Democrats wanted to block the Gold Star Tuition Bill, which provides free tuition to SUNY or CUNY schools for families of military service members killed anywhere in the line of duty or disabled anywhere in the U.S. or overseas while performing official duties, I proudly stood up for Gold Star families.

Our veterans have sacrificed everything for our country. To serve is to fulfill one’s duty to their country in the highest order. The debt we owe to our veterans for protecting our way of life, our families and our peace is not payable in this lifetime. The least we can do for those who gave everything is to give a little back.

One of our biggest responsibilities is helping veterans assimilate back into civilian life. Many veterans return home with scars we do not see. It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD, and the risk for suicide is 22 percent higher among veterans.

When Gov. Cuomo attempted to cut funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Program, a peer-to-peer counseling program, and other mental health services, I fought successfully alongside colleagues like Assemblymember Felix Ortiz and organizations like the Veterans Alliance and American Legion to restore the funding.

For those who aren’t familiar with the program, it is named after Joseph P. Dwyer, a Suffolk County resident who joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. Joseph Dwyer is a hero in every sense of the word — selflessly serving his country in the wake of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies.

Unfortunately, when Dwyer returned home from Iraq, he struggled with PTSD and eventually took his own life in 2008, leaving behind a wife and young daughter. The peer-to-peer counseling offered in veterans’ programs like the Joseph P. Dwyer Program is critical to addressing PTSD and traumatic brain injuries that many veterans sadly have to live with. 

 We also preserved the Veterans Benefit Advising Program, which assists New York State veterans and provides money to various community-based organizations with different missions and an array of services, including benefits counseling, mental health services, education counseling and much more. These programs help veterans overcome mental health issues, transition into civilian life and find gainful employment. 

Loyalty, duty and selfless-service have characterized our veterans since the inception of the armed forces. From the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq, we bear in mind the brave men and women who have generously sacrificed so much for our country.

Earlier this month, we recognized their commitment at a very special Veterans Day observance ceremony at Fort Hamilton, where five WWII veterans were honored.

Now it is up to us to build upon the foundation that the greatest generation has laid down. It is up to us to find new and improved ways of helping our cherished veterans deal with their unique post-service issues and help them live their lives to the fullest.

This past legislative session, I proudly stood up for our veterans and helped secure the vital services they need like tuition assistance and peer-to-peer counselling programs. I will always fight for those who fought for us.  

In the spirit of solemn thanksgiving and praise, I hope all the brave men and women who served our country had a happy Veterans Day.

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Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis represents the 64th District, in portions of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

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