Proposal would help veterans groups restore lost income

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Veteran service organizations are another casualty of the two-year pandemic as groups have had to cancel income-generating activities that were essential to their survival, a local lawmaker said Wednesday.

Veterans of foreign wars and American Legion posts had to give up fundraisers, bingo and other contests, breakfasts and banquets, and they could no longer depend on rental income when they had to limit access to their establishments, said Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Half Moon.

“Many, including some here in the Capital Region, are not the hubs of activity they once were before COVID,” said Jordan, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Human Resources Committee. military affairs.

Speaking at VFW Post 420 on Excelsior Avenue, Jordan was joined by a dozen of her ‘friends’ in the military as she announced a bill that would inject the state with $10 million to be directed towards the veterans’ organizations that have suffered significant financial losses during the pandemic.

The Veterans Service Organizations COVID-19 Relief Act, a fund under the Empire State Development Corporation, would make veterans organizations statewide eligible for grants of up to $50,000.

Jordan, whose 43rd Senate District includes 42 VFWs and American Legions, as well as the state military museum in Saratoga Springs, said organizations should have suffered a loss of gross revenue of 40% or more over the past tax years 2020 or 2021 over 2019. .

Jordan said the Legions and Posts help veterans access federal Department of Veterans Affairs programs, provide community programs, and offer information about state and local programs, as well as substance abuse counseling and counseling. professional training.

VSOs have become an essential part of the societal framework to help veterans and provide space for them to fellowship with those who best understand the sacrifices they have made, the senator added.

VFW Post 420 Commander Harold Patchen said, “Because of COVID we haven’t had attendance and membership has dropped because of it.” The organization has less than 350 members.

Patchen, who said he knows two veterans who are suicidal and suffering from PTSD, said the Post wants more funding to help homeless veterans and others in need of help.

“We have a veterans relief fund in our VFW as part of our overall program, and we like to keep putting money into it because veterans need it all the time,” he said. he declares.

Patchen said people who think VFWs are just places for vets to drink at the bar would be wrong.

“We use it,” he said, “but people will come here and sometimes they’ll feel depressed with PTSD. Members could spend all day talking to their struggling comrade, ”said Patchen, who adds that the post is working with Alliance180 at Ballston Spa on a program to help prevent suicide for veterans and help those affected. of PTSD.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, also argued in favor of the bill.

A National Guard veteran who served in the war in Afghanistan, Ortt said elected officials pay
“lip service to remembrance” in support of veterans, while Jordan backs up that claim with his longstanding commitment to them, which includes his support for the expansion of the Joseph P. Dwyer program that helps prevent suicides among veterans. Veterans.

Citing the Veterans Administration’s estimate of 22 veterans a day who take their own lives, Ortt said he believes the pandemic has deepened veterans’ feelings of isolation and depression.

Saratoga County Veterans Affairs Director Frank McClement said the county relies on the American Legions, VFWs and other veterans organizations to help spread the word and connect veterans and their families to services.

“Without them…we wouldn’t be as effective in our work,” said McClement, who also runs the county’s Dwyer program.