What do veterans' advocates want legislators to do in 2019? We asked.

Jan 14, 2019

With state lawmakers expected to begin work on what Democrats are vowing will be a politically progressive agenda, WBFO's Veterans News Desk ponders the question: what are advocates for veterans hoping for in 2019?

The common theme at the state and federal levels is seeking more support for mental health services, especially for suicide prevention.

State Senator Robert Ortt is a veteran who served with the US military in Afghanistan.
Credit WBFO file photo

State Senator Robert Ortt, a North Tonawanda Rpeublican and veteran who served in Afghanistan, is a longtime supporter of the Joseph P. Dwyer Program, which is funded at the state level and administered by counties. The program is named for an Army private and Iraq War veteran who took his own life.

"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."

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.