The memorials -- the words and the places of remembrance -- are essential. But so are the actions that must always go hand in hand with the tributes.
Or, in a thought commonly attributed to our nation’s first President, George Washington, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
Recent Memorial Day observances here at home, and across our state and nation, were poignant expressions of appreciation for the bravery, sacrifice and service of veterans. Appreciation, as noted in the phrase above, represents a fundamental part of this equation. The other key part is how veterans are treated.
With that in mind, the state Senate recently approved a comprehensive legislative package addressing a range of concerns and challenges facing New York’s active military men and women, and veterans. The legislative action came during the same week that the Senate inducted nearly 60 New York State veterans into the Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame, including long-time Steuben County farmer and World War II veteran Warren A. Thompson. We valued the opportunity to salute Warren as a symbol of the “Greatest Generation.” I will also take this chance to commend the Bath VA caretakers who accompanied Warren to Albany for the induction ceremony and who, day in and day out, deliver, in outstanding fashion, their own commitment to our veterans’ well-being.
The measures the Senate acted on seek to recognize the sacrifices of America’s active military and veterans -- to pay better attention to how they are treated. Our military men and women have made and continue to make a remarkable commitment to serve this nation. In return, we have a duty and responsibility to take actions and provide the programs and services they need and deserve.
The legislation focuses on employment, health care, home ownership, tax relief and a range of other economic, educational, public safety and government services challenges and concerns, including measures to:
-- create a task force to study and improve the job market for veterans. The task force, which would be comprised of stakeholders from state government, the private sector, and institutions of higher education, would hold annual public hearings and make recommendations on how the state helps military veterans find and maintain employment;
-- create a certified service-disabled veteran-owned business enterprise development and lending program to help provide financial and technical assistance to disabled veterans who have started a business in New York;
-- encourage public employers to hire military service veterans by establishing a “Hire a Vet” program to provide grants to municipalities employing a veteran;
-- help service-related disabled veterans afford a home by giving those with a VA disability rating of 40 percent or higher a preference in applications to the state’s Affordable Home Ownership Development Program;
-- establish a Veterans’ Gerontological Advisory Committee to help address the needs of a state with the second-highest veteran population in America, and an older veteran population whose needs and problems pervade multiple geriatrics and gerontology disciplines. At no cost to the taxpayers, the advisory committee will be able to provide crucial recommendations to the Director of the state Office for the Aging on policies, programs, services and trends affecting the aging veteran population;
-- direct the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs and other state agencies to study and address the alarming trend of homeless persons who are veterans in New York, as well as the amount of homeless veterans who are also parents; and
-- establish the “Veterans’ Memorials Preservation Act” to help protect veterans’ memorials throughout the state.
Earlier this year, the Senate also restored significant funding in the 2018-2019 state budget for veterans’ initiatives and increased funding for numerous programs that support veterans and their families.
Let us all hope that appreciation and treatment always remain guiding forces whenever and wherever decisions affecting America’s veterans are made.
"From The Capitol" is a weekly column distributed to local media by Senator O'Maras office for publication.