POUGHKEEPSIE – Democratic Senate candidate Karen Smythe, running a rematch race against incumbent Senator Sue Serino (R-41st District), has sent a mailing that has infuriated veterans affiliated with the Vet2Vet peer-to-peer counseling program.
In a campaign website devoted to Smythe’s campaign, paid for by the Dutchess County Democratic Committee, the claim is made that Serino opposed funding for peer counseling programs, commonly known as the Vet2Vet program.
“She claims to support our veterans…but she voted against funding a proven life-saving counseling program for Vets with PTSD,” according to the website denouncing Serino. The same claim was also printed on a recent campaign mailer. After the article was published, Smythe’s camp said that the bill number was incorrectly reported.
The bill cited as the Senate bill S.7530, reaffirmed by Smythe Friday evening is a bill aimed at restoring judicial discretion in cases where bail is being determined and has nothing to do with veterans. The bill never even came to a vote in the senate.
Serino was outraged by the claim, saying “The success of the Vet2Vet program is built on trust—trust between veterans themselves, trust between military families, and trust between community leaders who work to promote the program to help get veterans through the door. Attempting to erode that trust to score cheap political points only creates more barriers to care for veterans and their loved ones who need it most. I am absolutely disgusted that my opponent would stoop so low at a time when this pandemic has put everyone’s mental health on the line.”
Anthony Kavouras, Program Director for the MHA Dutchess Vet2Vet program, was disappointed that the program is being used as a political pawn. “Our Vet2Vet program and the additional programs under it serve our Veterans that need help and to be used as a pawn is disheartening.” Kavouras, a military veteran, noted that he was with another agency when the Vet2Vet program started but he distinctly recalls Serino as the state official that helped launch the program in Dutchess. “Senator Serino has been a strong advocate of Vet2Vet since day one, having secured substantial funding at every turn. We are not political – we’re here to help our Vets and Serino has helped us navigate the funding sources in Albany, even when it was left out of the governor’s proposed executive budget.”
Keith O’Hanlon, Chair of Senator Serino’s Veterans Advisory Board and a long-time associate of the Vet2Vet Program said, “This claim is not only false, it’s negligent and dangerous. This lie could discourage local veterans in need from seeking help and Karen should be ashamed that she has to use a lie like this to try to get a leg up in some political campaign. Veterans in our community had been asking for the Vet2Vet program for years and were constantly being told there was no funding for it. When Sue took office and formed her Veterans Advisory Board, it was one of the first things we brought to her attention, and within weeks, she had secured the funding necessary to make it a reality. It has been saving lives here in Dutchess ever since. Anyone who says she’s not a supporter of this program is grossly out of touch. No one has fought harder for us on this issue—year, after year, after year—than Sue Serino.”
Gemma Gephard, a veteran in Poughkeepsie also denounced the Smythe tactic. “As someone who’s used Vet2Vet services, this is offensive. We wouldn’t even have Vet2Vet in Dutchess if it wasn’t for Sue. To try to break down the trust this program is built on is just so wrong.”
Smythe is a member of the VFW Poat 170 auxiliary in Poughkeepsie and has been since January pf 2020.
After the above story was published, Candidate Smythe offered a correction regarding the Senate bill. In a text to Mid Hudson News, Smythe said “I transposed the numbers. The bill number, which is correctly cited on our mailer, is S7503C.” The bill Smythe referred to is the Aid to Localities Budget.
According to Serino, “The Dwyer Vet2Vet funding was a pawn in the budget bill from the beginning.” Serino responded to the Smythe correction, saying “The first bill in which funding was included, S. 7503C, actually cut funding for the program in half, which caused Serino and all of her Republican colleagues to vote against the bill. During a debate surrounding the bill, the Senate’s Finance Committee Chairwoman argued that additional money for the program would be included in a later bill. No bills were provided to substantiate this claim before S. 7503C was voted on.” Research indicates that on ” The following day, another budget bill was released that included the additional appropriation to fully fund and expand the Dwyer program in the state. However, that bill came with a catch— it empowered the Governor to unilaterally cut funding for programs included in it should the state’s budget become unbalanced.”
Serino explained her “no” vote, joining with veteran groups across the state, saying ” I ultimately chose to vote against this bill because I did not believe this vital funding should ever be subject to such cuts.”