Caribbean and Caribbean-American legislators on Monday paid homage to veterans, remembering them for their service and sacrifice to the nation.
“I would like to wish my city and nation a Happy Veterans Day,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants. “As we mark this day with our families, let us remember the men and women deployed overseas who cannot be with their own.
“We do this not as a tacit approval of war and violence but to pay homage to those who answered their country’s call to service – many of whom still feel dishonored by the treatment they receive when they return home,” he added. “It is clear to me that, far too often, we thank veterans with our words but not our actions.
“Currently, we have a federal government that is happy to use our military as political props but cuts benefits to our veterans and breaks the promises our country has made,” Williams continued. “Too many veterans feel abandoned and alone, with government not fulfilling their end of the contract. I have heard their stories and seen their pain. I have deep, profound respect for those who have answered the call to service, including members of my family.”
The public advocate said he stands “in appreciation of all, past and present, who have chosen to serve our nation in uniform.
“In celebrating today, we should not forget that Veterans Day takes its origin from Armistice Day; it was born from a celebration of peace,” he said. “May we always work toward achieving that peace at home and abroad.”
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said she honors veterans for their “unwavering commitment and service to our country.”
“We have all been inspired by our America’s military members who answered the call of duty,” said the representative for the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn. “These brave men and women gave up so much to defend our nation and the freedoms we enjoy. That’s why Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is such an essential holiday.
“From parades to local festivities and ceremonies, this particular day is set aside so we can appreciate the heroic individuals who have sacrificed so much, and it’s also a time for us to stop and remind ourselves of the challenges that our veterans faced once they return home,” she added.
Bichotte noted that the state of New York is proudly home to more than 800,000 veterans, “some of whom have difficulty transitioning back to civilian life.”
“From helping our veterans find gainful employment to getting them connected with resources like legal services, our state works to ensure these individuals have the support they need,” she said, stating that, this year, a state budget was passed that restores $1.6 million to programs such as the NYS Defenders’ Association, Helmets to Hardhats, Clear Path for Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the SAGE Veterans Project.
Bichotte said the budget also changes the name of the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to the Division of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to avoid confusion with the federal department and includes $1.38 million to allow it to fully fund county and city veterans’ service agencies.
She said the state also realizes that some veterans face psychological and physical hardships, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“That’s why the state budget allocates $4 million to continue supporting the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project, a peer-to-peer program that helps veterans facing these challenges,” Bichotte said.
She said the Assembly Majority is “fully committed to helping all veterans access the benefits they’ve more than earned.
“Unfortunately, far too many veterans have received a ‘less than honorable’ discharge due to TBI, PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST) or as a result of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” she said.
The Assemblywoman said this has kept many veterans from receiving state benefits that require a service member to have been honorably discharged in order to be eligible.
To right this wrong, she said legislation was passed extending eligibility for state benefits to veterans with a qualifying condition, including TBI, PTSD and MST, as well as those who were discharged for their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Bichotte said further legislation would help veterans to appeal their character of discharge at the federal level by establishing a discharge upgrade advisory board within DVS.
“Our determination to ensure that the courageous men and women who defend our country receive the support and assistance they need also include studying the tragic, prevailing issue of homelessness among veterans,” she said, stating that about 11 percent of America’s adult homeless population consists of veterans.
To learn how to better support these individuals, Bichotte said she helped pass a measure that would direct key state agencies to gather information on issues such as gender and unemployment rates for New York’s homeless veterans “in order to better target services and programs.”
“Our veterans deserve every chance to succeed, and this bill would provide state agencies with crucial information to help more veterans get back on their feet,” she said. “Fighting for legislation and funding to support these heroes is the least we can do.”
Haitian-born New York City Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene said also honored “those individuals in uniform who served and protected us in the name of freedom and liberty.
“We also honor our fallen soldiers by preserving their legacies of heroism and courage,” said the representative for the 40th Council District in Brooklyn. “Thank you for your service and your dedication to the United States of America.”
Stating that her brother is a veteran of the Armed Services of America and many other relatives served in the US military and in Guyana, Guyanese-born Sen. Roxanne Persaud said: “We have to give respect to those who served.
“To every veteran, I salute you on this Veterans Day and thank you for your service,” the representative for the 19th Senatorial District in Brooklyn told Caribbean Life. “There should never be a veteran suffering on the streets.”
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