ALBANY – Governor Cuomo’s budget for 2020 eliminated funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer-to-Peer Support Program, more commonly known as the Vet2Vet program. Late into the budget debate in Albany this week, funding was restored, according to Senator Sue Serino (R-Hyde Park).
When Governor Cuomo proposed his 2019 budget, funding for the program that plays a critical role in ensuring local veterans struggling with PTSD, TBI, or other mental health challenges was cut. Lawmakers and veterans successfully lobbied to get the funding restored. When this year’s budget was proposed by the governor, both the Putnam and Dutchess Vet2Vet programs saw their funding eliminated. in 2019, Putnam’s PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet2Vet program and the MHA Dutchess Vet2Vet each received $185,000 in state funding. The final 2020 budget restored funding at the 2019 level.
Serino touted the Vet2Vet program and the need for continued state assistance. “I cannot say it enough, Vet2Vet saves lives,” said Serino who lobbied her colleagues to restore funding. “While this year’s budget also gave the Governor the authority to reduce state spending if the budget becomes unbalanced, I will continue to fight to ensure that this vital program is protected and preserved.”
Adam Roche, Program Manager MHA Vet2Vet and Marine combat veteran said, “Our fearless veterans made a commitment to defend our country and risk their lives to do so. Unfortunately, many of our veterans have come home with both physical and mental scars that demand and deserve help from our government. We shouldn’t have to beg politicians to fund a program as vital and necessary as MHA of Dutchess Vet2Vet. I thank our local lawmakers for standing with us in our fight and am glad to see the important funding has been restored, but we will not stop fighting to ensure that this program becomes a permanent part of the state budget.”
John Bourges, Program Coordinator, Joseph P. Dwyer Program of Putnam County, said, “We spend most of our time finding the isolated, dis-enfranchised, and the outlier who has no support system. But it is through our program, and programs like us, that gets them to re-engage with society and no longer feel alone or remain isolated. Now, as we respond to the COVID crisis, those very same people are being forced back into isolation. The Dwyer program is even more critical now, and I am happy to see its funding has been restored so that we can continue our important work.”
Senator Serino has been fighting for this funding since the start of the year when it was once again left out of the Executive Budget Proposal as reported by Mid Hudson News here.
The Dwyer Program is named for an Iraqi War Veteran who lost his life as a result of his struggle with PTSD and 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 had been expanded to 24 counties and New York City. This year’s budget not only fully funded the programs in these counties, but expanded the Dwyer Program to two more counties in the Hudson Valley, Sullivan and Ulster.
The final state budget also included $5 million to help provide housing for homeless veterans and $1 million to support suicide prevention efforts among veterans and first responders.