Serino and vets fight to restore funding

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Senator Sue Serino is pictured above with Senator Rob Orrt (Ranking Member of NYS Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Secuity and MIliarty Affairs) and Senator John Brooks (Committee Chair). Photo Credit: NYS Senate Photography.

ALBANY– Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposal has neglected to include funding for the widely successful Vet2Vet programming throughout the state.  On Wednesday, Senator Sue Serino (R, Hyde Park) stood with veterans and a bipartisan group of lawmakers at a news conference hosted by Senator John Brooks, chair of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs to raise awareness about the funding issue.

The attendees called on legislative leadership to fully fund the programs under the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer-to-Peer Support Program, the umbrella under which Vet2Vet operates. The program was a temporary victim in the Democratic governor’s previous budget until it was restored at the last minute. Serino is once again leading the fight to fund a program that plays a critical role in ensuring local veterans have access to the resources they need to thrive in their communities.

“Vet2Vet saves lives,” said Serino. “That’s reason enough to ensure that it is funded by the state consistently. Our servicemen and women have made tremendous sacrifices for all of us, and they shouldn’t have to schlep up to Albany each and every year to fight for this critically important funding. This program works, and funding it should always be a top priority. I urge my colleagues to come together to not only fully fund the program, but to work towards expanding it statewide.”

Adam Roche, program manager for MHA of Dutchess County’s Vet2Vet program, expressed his frustration at having the funding omitted again.  “Our program has played a major role in improving the lives of veterans that need our help.  These men and women were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the Governor doesn’t appear to be willing to help them in their time of need,” said Roche.

The Dwyer Program — named for an Iraq War Veteran who lost his life as a result of his struggle with PTSD — was initially launched in only four counties throughout the state in 2012. It uses a unique and confidential peer-to-peer counseling approach to empower veterans and their families and to create a local network of support for our servicemen and women.  Since its inception, the program has proven to be so successful that it has been expanded to 24 counties and New York City.

Serino was made aware of the program after launching a local ‘Veterans Advisory Board’ after taking office in 2015 and worked to successfully secure funding to launch the program in Dutchess County and preserve it in Putnam. In 2019, the Governor signaled support for expanding the program throughout New York in his State of the State Address, but no funding was actually included for the Dwyer Program in his 2019-2020 Executive Budget Proposal. Due to the advocacy of the veterans and legislative leaders like Serino and Roche, the program did receive the funding that it needed to continue in the final State Budget.

This year, the governor included $5 million in his executive budget proposal to help provide housing for homeless veterans and $1 million to support suicide prevention efforts among veterans and first responders, although no funding was expressly included to support the Dwyer Program. If the state has $5 million to dedicate to extending the state fair for a few days, we have the $4.4 million it would take to maintain and expand the Dwyer Program. I govern by listening and our veterans are telling us that the Dwyer Program is indispensable,” she said. “These new programs will be great additions to the services we currently offer, but they cannot come at the expense of a program that we know is needed and successful.”