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 continually sacrifice to keep New York and its families safe. The 2012 legislative session was no exception, and I will detail a few pieces of legislation that passed this year in a moment. First, I want to pass along information concerning a wonderful initiative that focuses on World War II veterans – the Honor Flight Network.

In 1998, Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small Ohio clinic. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C. and quickly became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients. Earl learned that many of them were not financially able or physically able to make the journey to Washington D.C. alone. So, he started the Honor Flight Network with the goal of helping all veterans in America visit their memorial. The inaugural flight was in May 2005.

In our region, Leatherstocking Honor Flight covers the trip cost for veterans, relying solely on donations. On their trips, each veteran receives the following, at no charge: transportation to the Albany airport with police & motorcycle escort; round trip airfare; inspiring receptions at the airports in Albany and Baltimore; an Honor Flight “Thank a Veteran” t-shirt; a disposable camera; round trip bus transportation from Baltimore airport to Washington D.C.; lunch and dinner; a visit to Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier & the Iwo Jima Memorial, and a World War II Memorial book of facts and photos. Veterans are accompanied by guardians who pay their own way.

Leatherstocking Honor Flight made its first flight in Oct. 2008 and has taken over 400 area veterans on this inspiring journey. World War II veterans are in their 80s and 90s, so time is of the essence. The next Leatherstocking Honor Flight is scheduled for September 29. World War II veterans interested in attending should call 518-339-2464 for additional information.

On the legislative front, one bill (S.6799) that passed both the senate and the assembly and awaits action by the governor would allow veterans to display their veteran status proudly on their drivers’ licenses.

Many businesses currently provide a veterans discount, but statewide identification cards are not available making it difficult for some veterans to take advantage of the offers. This identification would put an end to the problem and would help state agencies reach out to veterans to let them know about available services.

Roger Surman of Herkimer County contacted me last fall following a meeting of the local American Legion and requested a standardized veterans insignia be included on drivers’ licenses. I was proud to co-sponsor legislation to help solve this issue.

Legislation aimed at helping employ veterans also passed the senate. The senate’s New Jobs-NY job creation program included an enhanced tax credit of up to $10,000 to any business that hires a veteran returning home from military service. Legislation that would give greater access to state contracts to veterans who were disabled during their service also received senate approval. I am hopeful the assembly will advance both soon.

Additionally, the governor recently signed into law legislation requiring the establishment of an employment link on the Division of Veterans’ Affairs website that will direct veterans to federal and state governmental programs that assist veterans in obtaining employment. This measure will help make sure our returning service men and women have access to any and all resources available to help them find work and will help put employers in touch with veterans who have special skills.

Additional measures, providing school tax exemptions for the military and allowing all veterans to buy back military service time for state retirement credit, also need to pass and remain priorities for me moving forward.

Senator Seward’s office web site is

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