What Do Veterans’ Advocates Want From Lawmakers In 2019?

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BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – The common theme at the state and federal levels is seeking more support for mental health services, especially for suicide prevention.

“What we know is we have a number of veterans , particularly here in New York State, who come back home. These are young men and women who served in Iraq and in Afghanistan and, very often, as they readjust to civilian life they are dealing with mental health issues and mental health needs,” Ortt said. “Sometimes, a clinical setting isn’t the setting that they need. The Joseph P. Dwyer Program is a non-clinical setting.”

FILE – In this June 21, 2013, file photo, the seal a fixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington. There are an estimated 21.6 million veterans in the United States. Among them, nearly 9 million are enrolled in health care provided by the VA. About 4.3 million veterans get disability compensation from the VA and nearly 900,000 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

At the federal level, the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System is urging the government to continue onward with a modernization program for its facilities. The VA Hospital in Buffalo and many of its satellite locations in Western New York offer various mental health services, spokeswoman Evangline Conley explained.

“We have our PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) residential programs in Batavia, both for men and for women,” she said. “As well, we have mental health clinic availability. We encourage veterans to come in and get their care sooner, rather than later.”

Conley noted that the federal government shutdown, which was continuing as of Monday morning, does not affect the VA’s services. The VA, she explained, is funded through a different mechanism which keeps them operating.

Back at the state level, Senator Ortt is also pushing for passage of legislation that would waive tuition to state colleges and universities for children of New Yorkers who were killed while serving in the military.

Pointing to the proposed NYS DREAM Act, which if passed would provide college financial aid for individuals who entered the United States illegally as children, Ortt says if state lawmakers are willing to provide help to those individuals, they should certainly be offering a helping hand to young people whose parents died while serving in the nation’s military.

“I think if we’re going to talk about tuition assistance or making college affordable and that kind of thing, those citizens whose parents have given the ultimate sacrifice are at least as worthy as anyone else,” he said. “That would be a bill I hope will get some attention.”

Ortt, whose party is now in the minority in the State Senate, sits on the Senate’s Mental Health, and Developmental Disabilities Committee as well as its Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee.