Gov. Kathy Hochul signs bill package to help state's vets, their families

Originally published in Newsday on November 12, 2021.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday, Veterans Day, signed into law an 11-bill package intended to support current and former service members and their families.

The legislation will "ensure veterans and active duty military members have the benefits and resources they need," Hochul said in a release from her office. "New York's veterans stood up for us, and we will continue to stand by them."

Some of the legislation appeared intended to broaden the pool of those eligible for benefits.

The new laws will, for example, expand a state scholarship for families of fallen and disabled service members by removing a requirement that military service must have been on or after Aug. 2, 1990. The packages also allows veterans to receive credits for civil service appointments and promotions by removing the restriction that only combat veterans can receive credits. Another law will expand the pool of Vietnam War veterans eligible for certain state benefits. The legislation changes the date recognized by New York State for the start of American military presence in Vietnam from Feb. 28, 1961, to Nov. 1, 1955, matching a change by the federal government.

Other legislation will help state agencies better reach veterans and family members already eligible for benefits.

The laws will create a Women Veterans Advisory Committee to help the Division of Veterans’ Services advocate for the state’s women veterans. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and homeless shelters will be required to ask about military service during intake, and veterans and reservists will be able to receive benefit information when applying for or renewing a driver’s license.

Perhaps narrowest in impact but of potential interest to Fire Island and Shelter Island residents, another law authorizes counties to require ferry operators to provide free transportation to enlisted service members in uniform.

The release from Hochul’s office included reaction from Long Island legislators Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), Assemb. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) and Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) praising the legislation.

"Too often, women veterans face barriers in accessing the services available to them, and we need to do better as a government when it comes to serving all of our heroes," said Kaplan, who sponsored the senate bill creating the women veterans advisory committee.

In a separate statement, Thomas Ronayne, the director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, said Friday, "This is great news for veterans across New York State. Here in Suffolk County we have both the highest number of veterans in the state and also the largest SUNY student veteran enrollment (SCCC) of the entire SUNY system. Transfers, reassignments and relocations can be extremely difficult for military families. The unemployment, access to benefits and services and other resources included here will make a true difference."