View from the Assembly, by Will Barclay

Veterans’ Day is a time we honor our veterans and thank them for their service.

We pause to reflect on their lives and appreciate how their sacrifices keep us safe and protect our country and our freedoms. I’ve always believed that New York state should do more for our veterans. We can’t rely solely on the federal government’s benefit structure to honor our state veterans’ service.

This year, the state Legislature enacted a number of bills. Many seek to provide better access to services, education and jobs. I wanted to highlight a few that recently became effective or were signed into law that I supported in the Assembly.

 Hire a Vet Tax Credit

This year’s budget created a tax credit for employers who hire veterans. Beginning in 2015, those who hire a veteran who has been discharged on or after Sept. 11, 2001 will receive a tax credit equal to 10 percent of each veteran’s salary or $5,000, whichever is less. The credit increases to 15 percent for the employer if the veteran is disabled.

A Veteran’s Employment Portal was added last year. This offers a one-stop career priority service to veterans and their eligible spouses, which can be accessed at http://www.veterans.ny.gov/.

 Driver ID Mark

The Department of Motor Vehicles now provides a special mark on a driver’s license or non-driver identification card indicating that the holder is a veteran of the U.S. armed forces, as long as veterans provide proof, such as Form DD-214. This law came about because it is sometimes difficult for veterans to carry original paperwork to obtain health services, or discounts that businesses offer to veterans, for example.

With this mark, if the veteran has their license, they can easily receive a discount at a restaurant or through a service provider.  I was pleased to support this during our last session. It passed unanimously in the Assembly and I’m glad it went into effect last month.

 Mental Health Portal

Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to provide better access to services concerning suicide prevention, peer outreach, and other support services.

This bill was signed into law in June and created portals along every page within the state Veteran’s Affairs website.

This builds on last year’s legislation which created an “interagency plan” to address the needs of returning veterans. I was pleased to support both in the Assembly.

On every Division of Veteran’s Affairs webpage, there is a crisis hotline number to call. I recognize that this is a small step in helping veterans, but having the ability to find help at someone’s hour of need can save lives and pain for families.

Combat-related mental illness has been and still is a critical issue for American war veterans. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, at least one in three Iraq veterans and one in nine Afghanistan veterans will face mental health issues like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Multiple tours have increased the stress of combat. Having quick access at a critical time can help save a life.

 Veterans Speakers in Classrooms

This year the Legislature passed a bill (A1601-A) that would coordinate efforts to get veterans into classrooms to talk about their military experiences.

The Division of Veterans’ Affairs has been directed to distribute information to school districts listing available speakers willing to discuss their experiences. This is designed to teach school-aged children about what military life is like and to bring a living history to the classrooms.

Many schools already invite veterans in for education, but this would formalize such a program and enable schools to, hopefully, have access to more veterans willing to speak to classes. This was signed by the governor in July.

More information on any of these services can be found at the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs at http://www.veterans.ny.gov/

While legislative changes and state programs can assist veterans, so can individuals by showing appreciation. Veterans deserve our respect and admiration for all they have done.

Whether it’s just saying “thank you” to one that you know or meet, or joining a more organized effort, all helps the sacrifices seem more worthwhile.

Locally, a group called Thank a Service Member was created to do just that. Since its inception in 2006, it has held a number of locally based events and has grown to a national organization. To learn more, visit http://www.thankaservicemember.org/.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling 598-5185.  You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.

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