Albany, NY - March 20, 2014 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today held the first New York State Veterans and Military Families Summit. He was joined by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Dr. Tommy Sowers, along with leaders and representatives from Veterans groups, military bases, educational institutions and private businesses to discuss ways in which New York can improve services to Veterans and military families. The Governor announced multiple initiatives that will provide Veterans and military families greater access to affordable housing, employment, and educational opportunities throughout the state.
The summit focused on creating a comprehensive approach to improving services to Veterans and military families in New York, especially in the areas of affordable housing, employment, education, benefits, and mental health. It included the participation of leaders from 36 Veterans groups, 11 representatives from military bases in New York, 28 administrators from educational institutions, 18 executives from private businesses, and many other stakeholders.
"We owe our Veterans and military families a huge debt of gratitude -- and the best way to express it is through action," said Governor Cuomo. "Today's summit is about taking action so more New York Veterans can realize the American Dream they fought to protect. And when we invest in our Veterans and military families, it pays dividends. We need their skills and leadership as we continue rebuilding the Empire State."
Dr. Tommy Sowers said, “I want to applaud New York Governor Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Duffy on convening the first ever Veterans summit of this kind. There are more than 886,000 Veterans in New York, thousands of whom may not be using their benefits, and States are integral partners in our mission to provide care and benefits to our nation’s Veterans,” said Dr. Tommy Sowers. “We are changing the way we do business at the VA - we are coming to you. Over the next year VA’s Mobile Vet Centers will be in every county in New York to spread the word about VA benefits and services.”
Colonel Eric J. Hesse, Director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs, said, “I am privileged to serve as the Veterans representative for the State of New York. New Yorkers have a long and proud tradition of military service and I commend and thank Governor Cuomo for hosting this Veterans and Military Families summit. Today’s summit focused on the sacrifices and value of New York State’s Veterans and Military Families. Through Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we are committed to doing more for our Veterans and Military Families. Today’s summit highlighted new initiatives, rebuilt programs, and expanded our vision to include all Veterans, Military Members, and their Families. New York State took huge steps forward to ensure Veterans and Military Families fully participate in New York’s economy, recreation, and opportunity.”
Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said, "I welcome the opportunity to represent the men and women of our New York National Guard, many of whom already count themselves among our state's Veterans or have served as members of the active military. Governor Cuomo's vision of a state government that values Veterans and serving members of the military, and crafts policies which support them and their families, recognizes the tremendous value these people bring to New York State. Our Veterans and military men and women have served our nation and play a vital role in communities across New York State and this summit is just one way Governor Cuomo recognizes them."
New York hosts the largest military base in the northeast, Fort Drum, which is home to 18,000 Soldiers and another 18,000 military family members as well as just fewer than 4,000 civilian employees.
New York is also home to the oldest service academy, the United States Military Academy at West Point which trains about 4,400 future Army officers annually.
Outside of Fort Drum there are another 3,600 Active Duty military members in New York, while the New York Army and Air National Guard have a combined strength of 16,000 men and women. The federal reserve forces – the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps reserves-- count another 14,500 New Yorkers among their ranks.
Overview of New York’s Veterans and Military Community
New York State is home to nearly 900,000 Veterans. Seventy-two percent served during periods of combat. Approximately 88,000 New Yorkers served in Afghanistan or Iraq. Additionally, New York State is home to approximately 30,000 active duty military personnel as well as an additional 30,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel. New York has the 4th largest number of Veteran-owned small businesses in the country, behind only California, Texas, and Florida. As these statistics show, New York is home to a large Veteran and military population.
New York has three major active duty military installations:
Fort Drum (near Watertown, NY)
Fort Hamilton (Brooklyn, NY)
The United States Military Academy at West Point
Smaller installations include the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit at Ballston Spa, the Watervliet Arsenal, the United States Merchants Marine Academy at Kings Point, and the Air Force Reserve Base at Niagara Falls.
Employment & Economic Opportunity
At today’s summit, the Governor announced the following initiatives to provide more employment opportunities to New York’s Veterans and military families:
- Veterans Contracting Program
Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature agreed to establish a statewide goal of six percent for participation on state contracts by small businesses owned by Veterans with service-connected disabilities. By comparison, the federal government’s goal for awarding contracts to veteran-owned businesses is only three percent and no other state in the nation offers as robust a program which includes set-aside contracts to these small businesses.
- Expanding “Experience Counts”
Governor Cuomo’s “Experience Counts” program will start covering military spouses as well as Veterans. This new addition to the program allows military spouses to use licenses and training from other states to transition into several professions in New York.
- Troops-to-Energy Jobs Program
Electric and natural gas utilities agreed to create the first-ever statewide coordinated effort to place Veterans in available jobs in the utilities industry.
- Adding Veterans Component to Regional Economic Development Councils
Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils will each create a Veterans Working Group to ensure the Councils emphasize Veterans when selecting projects.
- Connecting 55-c Eligible Employees to Job Opportunities
New York’s Department of Civil Service will create a new web portal for qualified disabled Veterans to submit their résumés to find State jobs. Previously, no unified method existed to connect qualified disabled Veterans with State jobs.
Governor Cuomo also announced a $50 million commitment from SONYMA to help provide affordable housing to Veterans and Military Families.
- $50 Million Commitment from SONYMA for Homes for Veterans
The State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA) pledged $50 million so Veterans and military members can obtain a fixed-rate mortgage with a 3.875 percent interest rate, 0.75 percent below the already-low interest rates charged on SONYMA mortgages with down-payment assistance. First-time homebuyers who are honorably discharged military veterans, National Guard, and reservists as well as active military, National Guard and reservists qualify for this program. Honorably discharged military veterans are eligible even if they are not first-time homebuyers. The capital pool contributed by SONYMA remains available between now and Veterans Day 2014, or until all available funds are used.
Today’s summit also focused on improving educational opportunities for military children as well as making all SUNY and CUNY institutions more affordable to Veterans. In that vein, the Governor announced legislation that would:
- Allow New York to Join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children
Governor Cuomo announced legislation allowing New York to join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, a national initiative to safeguard the educational well-being of children in military families who frequently move, requiring the children to change schools.
- Provide In-State Tuition for Veterans at all SUNY and CUNY Colleges and Universities
Under the legislation introduced by the Governor, the State University of New York and City University of New York would waive residency requirements for Veterans attending any schools within their systems utilizing the federal G.I. Bill. With tuition set at the lower in-state rates, all tuition costs would be covered by the G.I. Bill, providing Veterans access to the largest comprehensive public system of colleges in the nation and the largest urban system of public education in the nation.
- Provide SafeTalk Training for State Employees Frequently Interacting with Veterans
Consolidated Call Centers and all Division of Veterans’ Affairs staff members will take Office of Mental Health suicide awareness training.
- Create Strike Force to Help End the Federal Claims Backlog
Governor Cuomo announced the establishment of a statewide “Strike Force” to expedite federal disability claims for New York State Veterans and their family members. Through a public-private partnership with the not-for-profit United War Veterans Council, Health Research Incorporated, and the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs, New York State will assist the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Offices with processing claim applications. On average, Veterans in New York currently must wait close to 500 days for a decision on their VA disability claims. In New York State, there currently are approximately 12,000 pending VA disability claims, with many of these cases more than two years old. New York’s new “Strike Force” will significantly help New York’s Veterans and their family members escape this backlog.
- Remove Income Limitation for Gold Star Parent Annuity
Governor Cuomo announced legislation to provide an annuity to Gold Star Parents regardless of the Gold Star Parent’s income.
- Provide Burial Assistance to Families of Servicemembers Who Die From Combat Wounds
Governor Cuomo announced legislation to extend the burial allowance for servicemembers who die in combat to include those servicemembers wounded in combat who die outside the combat zone from those wounds.
- Council on Veterans, Military Members, and their Families
Governor Cuomo announced an Executive Order that will focus state services on Veterans, military members, and their families.
- Require State Agencies to Inquire About Military Service and Share Information with the Division of Veterans’ Affairs
Governor Cuomo requests state agencies ask “Did you or your family member serve in the military?” on forms, registrations, or other customer-facing points of contact and share that information with the Division of Veterans’ Affairs. Data sharing enables Veterans and their family members to receive a wide array of services and information.
- Require State Agencies to Appoint a Veterans Liaison Officer
Governor Cuomo announces a new requirement for each New York State agency to appoint a Veterans Liaison Officer to coordinate initiatives focused on Veterans and military families and spread the word about new benefits.
- Law School Consortium to Provide Legal Assistance to Veterans
Albany Law School and New York Law School are joining with New York State (Governor’s Office and Division of Veterans’ Affairs) to lead an innovative partnership and dialogue to assess how New York State’s 15 Law Schools can best provide legal assistance to the State’s Veterans.
- Highlighting Significance of Community-based Services and Philanthropies
New York State Health Foundation highlighted the importance of supporting community-based services for Veterans and their families, and the roles philanthropies and private corporations can play to scale these activities.
- Provide Lifelong State Parks Access for Veterans with Disabilities
Governor Cuomo announces the “Lifetime Liberty Pass,” providing free lifetime access to New York State Parks and free or discounted greens fees, camping, and many other Parks activities for qualifying Veterans with disabilities.
- Establishing Free Fishing Days for Veterans
New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation will partner with veterans organizations to hold four free fishing for Veterans, servicemembers, and their families.
Senate Co-Leader Dean G. Skelos said, “The contributions and sacrifices made by New York’s active duty military, veterans, and their families are an inspiration to us all and I thank Governor Cuomo for holding this summit to help continue to explore the ways we can give back. My colleagues and I, led by Senator Greg Ball, Chairman of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee, are committed to building upon our efforts to ensure that veterans receive the benefits, support system, and opportunities they deserve.”
Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein said, "With a new generation of veterans returning home from combat, we have an obligation to support these heroes and their families by leveling the playing field. This bill will empower our disabled veterans as small business owners by allowing them to roll up their sleeves and embrace the entrepreneurial spirit. Last year, the Independent Democratic Conference was proud to introduce the first "Jobs for Heroes" tax credit, and this year we're thrilled to do even more. I applaud Governor Cuomo for hosting today's veterans summit and his commitment to helping every veteran find a good paying job."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “The sheer number of combat veterans who are committing suicide, who are suffering with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and MST and who are homeless and living in poverty is shameful and should unsettle every American citizen. For these brave men and women to face insurmountable obstacles upon their return home, as they begin their transition into the civilian life that they fought so hard to protect for countless families here in the United States, we are ready – and have always been ready – to work with the Governor, with our counterparts in the Senate, with our congressional delegation and with the Administration in Washington to help you in any way that we can.”
Senator Greg Ball said, “I am honored to join Governor Andrew Cuomo, a leader who has worked in an effective and bipartisan way to keep America’s promise to our veterans. I thank the Governor for bringing statewide attention upon the needs of our military veterans and their families at this very important summit. We do a very good job in this country of getting young men and women to raise their right hand and say that they are willing to fight and die for the United States of America. That said, we do not always do a great job, either as a state or a nation, in transitioning those men and women back into the workforce. It’s great to have a Governor who gets it, and I look forward to great things for New York’s heroes.”
Assembly Member Felix Ortiz said, “Today’s Veteran Summit is just one of the many things we can do to continue our outreach efforts to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep our families safe. The Assembly, the Governor and our partners in the Senate remain committed to ensuring that our veterans never feel as if they have to make it alone in the difficult transition back into civilian life.”
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Superintendent said, "I have served within New York at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point and with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. I have always found New Yorkers to be proud of America's service members and I am very pleased that Governor Cuomo is holding this first Veterans and Military Families summit. The Army has a saying - once a Soldier, always a Soldier and that the strength of each Soldier comes from the family. To that end, I applaud efforts to support America's men and women in uniform and their families."
Patricia D. Marks, Judge, Retired Executive Director Veterans Outreach Center, Inc. said, “We have seen communities across New York State create meaningful opportunities to improve the lives of our veteran neighbors through the benefits of public and private partnerships. It is imperative that we continue to identify the services and service providers that are available in each of our own backyards that can open doors to the education, employment, and wellness of these men and women who have served our nation in the Armed Services. We applaud the Governor’s effort in connecting these entities with a vested interest in supporting the veteran community’s success, because we know how much more we can achieve for all 843,480 veterans in New York State when we work together.”
Ned D. Foote, President, New York State Council Vietnam Veterans of America, said, " New York State Council Vietnam Veterans of America welcomes the opportunity to participate in Governor Cuomo's Veterans and Military Families Summit Participation in this type of Summit allows us to live by our motto, "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
Jocene Henderson, Sergeant Major, USA, Retired, Veterans Outreach Center, said, “Based on our 40-year experience of working with Veterans and military families in the Rochester area, we believe the Governor’s Summit is important as a venue to help us raise awareness of the continuing need for supportive services. We look forward to exchanging knowledge with other service providers while at the same time learning more about the unmet needs of our Veterans and military families.”
Samuel J. Hall, President of the New York State Association of County Veteran Service Officers, Inc., said, "The New York State Association of County Veteran Service Officers, Inc. looks forward to the information and advocacy issues to be discussed at the Veterans and Military Families Summit. We appreciate Governor Cuomo's leadership in providing a dialogue on veteran issues in New York State."
Scott Thompson, Director of the Veterans Mental Health Coalition of New York City, said, "Gathering everyone at the summit of a mountain gives a vital perspective as important as base camp and the long, dedicated climb on behalf of individuals and organizations coming together in community with veterans. I am grateful to the Governor for inspiring our continued efforts."
State Commander Michael Pascal, Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of New York said, “On behalf of the more than sixty thousand members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of New York, I want to thank Governor Cuomo for hosting this Summit. It is great to see the leadership in the State take the time to address and work on issues facing Veterans and military Families. This first of its kind Veterans’ Summit will be the foundation on which we build future programs and legislation in New York. The VFW stands ready to assist our leadership in getting Veterans the recognition they’ve earned.”
Vince McGowan, President United War Veterans Council Chairman - The New York City Veteran's Advisory Board, said, “The United War Veterans is proud to partner with New York State in supporting its Veterans and Military Families. Our recycling program which benefits the environment, employs veterans and raises funds for the services needed by the men and women who have served our nation has been a great success in New York City. We commend Gov. Andrew Cuomo for convening this summit to prepare for the return to New York of 44,000 veterans, joining the hundreds of thousands already calling New York Home."
Paul Rieckhoff CEO and Founder- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, "With America's longest wars winding down, there's never been a more important time to recommit to the cares and concerns of our veterans and their families. As a national organization founded and headquartered in New York City, IAVA is pleased to see leadership in New York that recognizes this commitment and we look forward to partnering with the Governor and all the attendees in Albany today to help our veterans in the years ahead."
Andrew S. Roberts Director, Office of Military and Veterans Liaison Services North Shore-LIJ Health System, said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for holding this summit. Our military personnel, veterans and their families have made tremendous sacrifices and we all need to work together to ensure they have a successful reintegration when they return home. At North Shore-LIJ, we have provided over 11,000 behavioral health visits to military veterans and their families since 2006 and we've achieved this by collaborating with others in communities we serve throughout the metropolitan area.”