Members of the New York State Senate Majority Conference today introduced a package of legislation that would provide greater benefits and protections to New York’s military personnel.
The package of bills, announced at a Capitol news conference, includes measures to provide better access to education, health and mental health services, employment opportunities, support for the families of New York’s service members and ways to commemorate and honor those who serve our state and nation.
The Senate will pass a resolution today urging all New Yorkers to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. to recognize and honor the sacrifice made by the brave men and women who have given their life while defending our nation.
The legislation announced today builds on the Senate’s ongoing efforts to provide assistance and benefits to New York’s veterans and active military members, including the innovative Patriot Plan which provided numerous benefits to our service men and women fighting the War on Terror.
Educational Opportunities for Veterans
This year’s state budget included $4.5 million to provide tuition assistance for veterans enrolled in an approved graduate, undergraduate and vocational program. Veterans’ tuition assistance was increased from $2,000 per year to $4,350, allowing veterans to attend a SUNY or CUNY school tuition-free. If a veteran chooses to attend a private school, they will receive the equivalent towards their education costs.
Veterans enrolled in part-time studies will receive a pro-rated amount. In addition, the enacted budget expanded the eligibility for this program to cover all veterans who served in the Armed Forces in any hostilities since 1961.
The program is a Senate Majority initiative that originally passed unanimously in the Senate last year (S.6288, Senator Bruno).
"Our service men and women make a tremendous sacrifice when they make the decision to put their lives on the line and defend the freedoms we enjoy as Americans," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno. "This benefit will allow our veterans the opportunity to further their education by providing free tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools. It’s important we show our veterans our respect and gratitude, and provide them with benefits to allow them to sustain and improve their quality of life."
In addition, the Senate also announced the following legislation:
> S.5644 -- Extends the National Guard Scholarship Awards program to cover graduate education programs (Senator Leibell); and
> S.8264 -- Creates a Task Force to study the implementation of a program to allow SUNY and CUNY to accept military courses for college credit. (Senator Maltese)
"As a Korean War Veteran and former Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, I believe it is vital to assist our soldiers returning from duty and award their courageous sacrifices and the valiant contributions they made to our country," said Senator Maltese. "My bill recognizes soldiers often acquire valuable and substantial knowledge while serving in our military and should be allowed to receive college credits towards a degree program. This in turn will help them complete their higher education and pursue a successful career."
Health and Mental Health Initiatives
The Senate will act on legislation (S.5603-A, Senator Leibell) that would provide for State pick-up for costs for single or family co-pays for all active National Guard members enrolled in the TRI-CARE military health plan.
"Health car is so important to every American, and especially so to our veterans and their family members," said Senator Leibell. "This bill will provide our veterans, in cooperation with the federal government, with top quality health insurance at no cost, for both themselves and their families."
The 2008-09 state budget includes $250,000 to train mental health providers in veteran-specific mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse issues. (S.6799-A, Senator Fuschillo, Passed Senate 5/12/08)
"With a large number of returning veterans suffering from major depression, PTSD or TBI, it is vital that mental health professionals are able to properly identify and treat these illnesses that are unique to combat situations," Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick) said. "This program will prepare New York’s mental health workforce to meet the needsof combat veterans and ensure the men and women who risked their lives overseas will be able to go on with their lives when they return home."
The budget also included $150,000 for the Canines for Veterans Program, to provide working support dogs to combat veterans who are injured in the line of duty, a program initiated by the Senate Majority.
To enhance measures taken in this year’s budget, the Senate has also introduced legislation to:
> add two members to the mental health services council -- one from the Division of Veterans Affairs and one from the Division of Military and Naval Affairs (S.7183, Senator Morahan);
"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an immediate need to address the mental health concerns of current and future veterans. It is critical our military leaders have the capacity to accurately project the effects the costs of treating our veterans will have on government services," said Senator Morahan, Chairman of the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. "This legislation will add two highly qualified new members to the Mental Health Services Council who are in the best position to help assess and deal with the mental health needs of veterans, including those returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
> extend the statue of limitations for actions involving exposure to Agent Orange for two years (S.7832, Senator Leibell).
Tax Credits and Employment
Included in the Senate’s veterans’ package is legislation that would:
> give preference to service disabled veteran-owned small businesses with respect to state contracts (S.4218, Senator Leibell, Passed Senate 2007);
> provide a tax credit to businesses that hire disabled veterans and veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (S.3068, Senator Trunzo);
"Our veterans willingly put their civilian lives on hold to protect our freedom and our way of life," said Senator Caesar Trunzo (R, Brentwood). "When they return home, many must seek civilian employment for the very first time. This can be especially challenging for our disabled veterans. I am proud to propose this bill to encourage private businesses to hire our veterans."
> allow members of the armed forces to take special military make up civil service exams (S.7792, Senator Leibell).
Support for Military Families
The Senate package includes several bills to provide support to military families whose loved ones are serving in the armed forces, including legislation to:
> authorize State and Municipal employees to be paid for up to 45 days of military deployment each year, up from 30 days (S.7830A, Senator Leibell);
> establish the New York military family relief fund to provide grants to military members who are called to active duty for more than 90 days and are stationed more than 300 miles from their primary residences (S.7643-A, Senator Larkin);
"We must do all we can to ensure our military personnel and their families are given the support they need during these times of crisis" said Senator Larkin. "The military family relief fund legislation will assist those members of the national guard, state militia or armed services reserves and their families during extended deployments far from home".
> require the Division of Military and Naval Affairs and the Office of Children and Family Services to develop a day care assistance program when one or both parents who are members of the military are mobilized for active duty (S.4429, Senator Leibell);
> establish a personal income tax credit for the purchase of equipment used in the performance of duties (S.702, Senator Nozzolio);
"There is no greater debt owed than that which we owe to our veterans and those currently serving our nation," said Senator Michael Nozzolio (R-C, Fayette). "America’s veterans are our true heroes, and this package of legislation will ensure that we do our part to give back to those who have given so much for our country."
> provide recruiting incentive awards for New York National Guard and New York Air National Guard (S.3654-A, Senator Leibell);
> prohibit courts from making determinations in child custody proceedings when a parent is activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service (S.5860, Senator Rath);
"In some cases, decisions regarding child custody are made while a service member is activated and serving our country," said Senator Mary Lou Rath (R-C-I, Williamsville). "This is unfair. Major decisions about a family’s future should not be made when someone cannot speak for themselves. This bill would remedy this situation by ensuring that custody decisions are not made until the service member returns from service."
> amend the domestic relations law to state that a parent’s military status shall not affect his or her parental rights during custody proceedings (S.5863, Senator DeFrancisco).
"Unfortunately mothers and fathers who serve in our armed forces are discovering that their military status can negatively affect them during contentious child custody proceedings," said Senator John A. DeFrancisco (R-C-I-WF, Syracuse). "It is essential for us to protect our military members and we cannot continue to allow their military status to adversely affect their parental rights. My bill would ensure that a parent's decision to serve his or her country would not come into question during family court custody proceedings."
Honoring Our Veterans
In addition, the Senate plan includes components to honor our active military members, veterans, and their families.
"When it comes to expressing gratitude to our veterans, it is not enough to just say the words, we must live by them," said Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C, Brooklyn), Chairman of the Senate Task Force on Critical Choices. "This package of legislation is designed to provide real results for our veterans. These are not merely bills, they are a commitment from the Senate Majority to help those who were there to answer our nation’s call during its time of need."
The package includes bills that would:
> Authorize the use of State funds for the operation and maintenance of state veterans’ cemeteries (S.8010, Senator Leibell)
> Establish the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act (S.7879-A, Senator Leibell); and
> Establish May 11 as Military Spouses Day in New York State (S.6844, Senator DeFrancisco, passed Senate 3/18/08).
In addition to the legislation announced today, the Senate yesterday passed three bills that would:
> exempt military personnel serving in a combat zone from income tax on compensation for their service (S.3574-A, Senator Lanza);
> provide a United States burial flag for veterans of the New York Guard (S.7515, Senator Saland); and
> allow the Defense Department 214 as proof of service for Cold War veterans applying for a real property tax exemption (S.6697, Senator Maziarz).