For the second time in as many years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has failed to include the Dwyer Vet-to-Vet program in the state budget, which could mean the end of the program that has helped hundreds of veterans in the Putnam County since its inception.
Last year, intense lobbying was able to get the funds restored, but now veterans and their advocates need to make noise again. The funding was originally in Cuomo’s proposal, but later taken out, veteran affairs director Karl Rohde told lawmakers at a committee meeting last week. The funding would last until June 30 and the county would only be able to sustain a much smaller program after that date.
The program is made up of veterans that get special training to help other veterans that are in need through counseling and speaking with them. The program also sets up events for veterans and their families like going to baseball games. The county received $185,000 from the state for the program last budget season.
“This should not be an annual burden for the veterans community,” Rohde said of fighting to keep the program. “It’s a great program.”
Currently, 16 counties use the vet-to- vet program. Rohde stressed Putnam has a “track record” of helping veterans with the peer program.
Rohde said there was a veteran who sought vet-to-vet services in January during the evening hours, which was newly implemented this year, in need of help. The veteran had been homeless and living in his car or a storage unit, but that changed with the help of the peer program. He now has a room at the county’s veterans residence.
“We might’ve been able to reach this veteran without Dwyer Vet-to-Vet, but it might’ve taken longer,” Rohde said.
Mental Health Association in Putnam executive director Megan Castellano said the program is invaluable and peer support can significantly help veterans going through a hard time. Vet-to-vet program director John Burgess added 22 veterans commit suicide per day, which makes a program helping veterans even more important.
A letter was sent from Senator Sue Serino’s office to the committee that the Republican posted on her Facebook page, pushing the governor to reinstate the funding.
“This year, we were encouraged when the Governor referenced this profoundly impactful program in his State of the State Address and signaled his support for expanding it across NY. However, despite that rhetoric, the Governor failed to include funding to support the program in his Executive Budget Proposal,” Serino stated. “The Senate has always worked to ensure that funding is included in the budget for this important program which helps our servicemen and women struggling with PTSD, TBI, and other mental health challenges. While leadership in Albany has changed, I will continue to be a vocal advocate for this critically important program.”
When Legislator Neal Sullivan asked how much the state would be saving, Castellano said about $3.4 million out a $175 billion budget. The county Legislature plans to write a letter to Cuomo and Putnam’s state representatives about reinstating the program.
“It’s a disgraceful,” Sullivan said, with Legislator Ginny Nacerino adding the cuts are “disheartening.”
Legislator Amy Sayegh said veterans face a unique set of challenges because not many people can relate to what a veteran is dealing with.
“That’s why these programs are so important because their needs are so specific and we owe it to those that are fighting for our freedoms everyday,” Sayegh said.