Veterans put their lives on the line to defend our country and protect the freedoms and ideals that make our nation great. Although we can never fully repay them, we can help to support them, and their families. It’s important that we come together to ensure these brave New Yorkers have access to all of the resources and services they need.

When veterans return home from active duty, they can face a slew of challenges during the transition to civilian life. They should never have to worry about getting their benefits, finding job opportunities and accessing vital health care services, such as physical therapy or mental health care. That’s why, as a member of the Assembly Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’ve continuously fought to ensure that our state supports veterans at every opportunity.

To address these barriers, I joined my colleagues in supporting legislation to extend state benefits and services to veterans who served honorably but received “less than honorable discharges” as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST). This discharge effectively bars individuals from receiving most state and federal benefits, and while only the military can change a discharge status, this legislation allows New York’s veterans to access state level benefits despite not receiving an honorable discharge.

Additionally, the legislature passed legislation to allow disabled active service members to earn a property tax exemption for improvements made to their homes because of a service-connected injury (A.7289). Under current law, veterans are already eligible for a real property tax exemption, and this legislation extends that opportunity to those who continue to serve. We also passed the Outdoor Rx Act, which will study and develop recommendations to help New York create more nature-based outdoor recreational activities and therapy programs for veterans (A.8094).

Unfortunately, some veterans have fallen victim to unethical practices by bad actors. With this in mind, I helped enact laws that prohibit “pension poaching,” where businesses falsely claim to be advocate organizations and scam elderly and disabled veterans out of their savings (Ch. 183 of 2019). Now, only verified organizations can assist veterans in obtaining benefits and are prohibited from charging unreasonable fees.

I’ve actively worked to support veterans here in the North Country as well. Since taking office, I’ve been a proud advocate for North Country veterans groups securing over $200,000 in past budget cycles and I will continue to fight to make sure our North Country veterans organizations get their fair share. I’ve also led the annual Santa Sprint 5K, to benefit the North Country Honor Flight, since 2017 and together, we’ve raised thousands of dollars for future Honor Flights.

I make it a top priority to assist our nation’s veterans with anything that they may need. My office has put together a pamphlet that lists many resources that are available to veterans such as tuition awards, GI Bill assistance, tax exemptions, medical and mental health services, civil service and career advancement, assistance with disabilities benefits and more. I encourage all veterans who want a copy or need assistance obtaining their benefits from state or federal agencies to contact my office.

If you have questions or concerns about this or any other community issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 518-562-1986 or JonesB@nyassembly.gov.

Assemblyman Billy Jones represents the North Country in the New York State Assembly’s 115th District.

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