Giving back to our veterans

Veterans’ issues are often contemplated in Albany as we work to protect the rights and benefits of our brave service men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep New York and our families safe. The 2015 legislative session was no exception, starting with the state budget which included funding for a number of vital programs. Additionally, we took action on other bills important to our veterans.

One piece of legislation, which was just signed into law, corrects a situation that wrongly cost veterans who added their veteran status to their drivers’ licenses in recent years.

Back in 2012, legislation I co-sponsored established the new insignia for veteran drivers’ licenses. The new law was inspired in part by a constituent of mine, Roger Surman of Herkimer County, who contacted me following a meeting of the local American Legion and requested a standardized veterans insignia be included on licenses.

While many businesses provide a veterans discount, no statewide identification cards were being made available, making it difficult for some veterans to take advantage of the offers. Adding the veteran status to drivers’ licenses seemed like a perfect solution.



However, there was a problem in the implementation of the law when it took effect in 2013. Many veterans, understandably, wanted to have the insignia added right away. While there was no charge for the new emblem itself, if a veteran renewed his license early he was forced to pay the renewal charge. This really put a damper on what was supposed to be a helpful new policy.

To fix this situation, a new law was passed in 2014 to waive the fee for veterans who wanted to have their drivers’ licenses renewed early solely to add the veteran insignia. This helped anyone from that point forward, but what about those who had already paid the unmerited fee? Earlier this month a law was signed to help those servicemen and women as well.

Senate bill 1659 makes the law waiving the fee retroactive to 2012, triggering refunds to veterans who paid an early renewal fee to simply add the special veteran insignia. To make this news even better, there is no need to request the refund or visit your local DMV office. The refund will be automatically sent by New York State to any eligible veterans.

Another piece of legislation that I am contacted about on a regular basis would allow veterans to obtain up to three years of additional credit toward their state retirement benefits for peacetime military service. Under the measure, veterans must have at least five years of credited service to New York in order to receive this credit. The bill would also remove all existing requirements that military service be performed during certain periods of war or hostilities in order to be eligible for the military service credit.

The goal of this bill is simple – to honor those who have bravely served our country and to encourage them to return to New York and continue their public service as teachers, firefighters, police officers, and municipal and state employees. The credit is a small price to pay to recognize the training and leadership skills that our veterans received during their honorable military service.

You may recall that similar legislation was passed last year as well and later vetoed by the governor. In his veto message the governor cited cost concerns for local governments; however, the estimates offered were much higher than those forecast by the New York State and Local Retirement System (ERS), and New York State Teachers' Retirement System. In any event, to answer the cost concerns, the bill which passed both the senate and assembly this year included an appropriation of $24.8 million. I am hopeful that this change will satisfy the governor and that he will sign this measure into law soon.

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