State Sen. Greg Ball vowed last week to pass legislation that would allow businesses owned by service disabled veterans to receive preference on state contracts.
Ball, who held a April 27 Veterans Advisory Council meeting on the issue at the Mount Kisco Public Library with Assemblyman Robert Castelli, said the proposed measure would help those businesses hire more returning veterans, many of whom face an uphill challenge to find work. The unemployment rate for disabled veterans is about 25 percent, almost twice the number of non-disabled veterans and about three times that of the general population.
While a similar bill passed both houses of the state legislature a few years ago, it was vetoed by former Gov. David Patterson. With bipartisan support for the bill among legislators, Ball promised that this time around he will pursue its passage like “a pit bull on a ham bone.”
“With the number of returning veterans suffering with ailments like traumatic brain injury, this bill would provide a small measure of recognition and support that these heroes so fully deserve,” said Ball, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs.
The bill would provide the same preference for disabled veterans that is now afforded to women- and minority-owned businesses, Ball added.
At last Friday’s hearing, several disabled veterans appealed to Ball and Castelli to push for the legislation. Retired U.S. Navy Lt. Cauldon Quinn, who is now CFO for Drexel Hamilton, a financial services firm, said many private sector employers are unaware or uneducated about the qualities and qualifications returning veterans can provide even if they are sympathetic to their plight.
Quinn said the businesses that are owned by disabled veterans are the most likely to have the patience and understanding to welcome other former servicemen and provide them with the necessary retraining.
Ben Downing, who originally enlisted in the Army in 1992, said an equal chance is all disabled veterans are seeking.
“We just want an even playing field and the opportunity to perform at the best of the abilities that we have, and the ability to learn,” Downing said at the hour-long hearing.
Also speaking was Jerald Majetich, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant who started his military career in 1988 with the Marine Corps and later served in the Army. In October 2005, his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. He suffered burns over 35 percent of his body and endured facial and scalp burns, the loss of both ears and a portion of his nose.
Majetich, who previously went to school for finance and accounting, said the additional obstacle of his appearance can be off putting but he is now training with the Wall Street War Fighters, which helps to prepare disabled veterans for a financial services career.
“It’s a difference when you go out there and interview and start talking to people,” he said.
Castelli said employers sometimes equate physical disabilities with being incapable, something the legislation would help alleviate.
“Just because a veteran has no legs doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any brains,” the assemblyman said.
Ball said he hopes to get the bill to the floor of the legislature for a vote this session and is hopeful that Gov. Cuomo would sign the bill into law.