County Executive Pat Ryan is joining elected officials across New York State to demand the funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project be released to veteran organizations.
The Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project is a peer-to-peer program for Veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The project is named after Joseph P. Dwyer, a U.S. Army Medic in the Iraq war, who died in 2008 from struggles with PTSD.
“The Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Project is a vital program that saves lives,” Ryan said. “Today I am calling on New York State to fund this program immediately because we cannot wait any longer. Even before the pandemic, we were already in the midst of an epidemic of suicide. As a veteran, this is deeply personal, and every day that we are not taking action is a day too long.”
The project began in 2012 as a partnership with the Suffolk County United Veterans program and the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency.
Around 20 veterans commit suicide each day and veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die from suicide than Americans who didn’t serve.
The program’s mission is to, “[support] military veterans that experience Post-Traumatic Stress and other moral injuries that lead to suicide and substance abuse.” It trains Veterans to speak to one another in an attempt to provide non-clinical support. This way they can speak to people who have experienced similar things as them.
The Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration (HVCVR) is located at 320 Enterprise Drive in Kingston and holds The Vet2vet program, which attempts to combat the daily challenges faced by veterans, who will serve as peer specialists and host group and individual meetings with others who are looking for support.
Programs and meeting dates for 2021 will include yoga and peer support groups, but dates are yet to be determined.
Events will include: Walk-A-Mile in My Shoes which will occur in August, as well as a 56 Mile Walk from Kingston to Albany by veterans that will take place over 22 hours.
“Veteran Peers work to eliminate the stigmas and labels by advocating, supporting, and providing a connection that empowers one another” according to the HVCVR website. “Veteran Peers engage in continuous training and look at identifying the best practices for addressing the needs of each veteran served.”
One of the 26 County run Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Projects, The Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration is owed a cumulative $300,000 according to Ryan’s press release. This includes fees held from last year and allocations from this year that have yet to be received.
Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposal for 2021-22 did not include funding for the Dwyer Program, compared to last year’s 2020-21 Budget which provided about $4.5 million.
“Our programs surrounding the Hudson Valley, and throughout New York State are currently operating on zero budget for over a year,” said Executive Director of the Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration Kevin Keaveny.
Senator Fred Akshar and other members of the Senate Republican Conference wrote a letter on Jan. 14, addressing Senator John Brooks, Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs to release the funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project.
“The Senate Minority Conference writes you today to urge the Senate Majority to immediately take the steps necessary to make available the $4,505,000 allocated in the 2020-2021 State Budget,” reads the letter.
“Since we first secured these services for our community, [the] Joseph P. Dwyer program has been there for thousands of our local veterans across the Southern Tier and beyond,” said Sen. Fred Akshar. “During the current COVID-19 crisis, this funding has helped address veterans’ food insecurity, homelessness, lack of social engagement, and the need for career services support. New York needs to keep its promises to veterans in our community and across our state. They’ve upheld their commitment to our nation, New York needs to uphold its commitment to them.”
“As a combat veteran, I fully understand the difference the services provided by the Joseph P. Dwyer program can make in the lives of our veterans who are struggling. The need for these critically important services has only been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I urge my colleagues in the Majority to take the necessary steps to make sure these funds are released as soon as possible,” said Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt.
This pilot program will soon serve as a national model for veterans’ assistance.
The HVCVR is currently looking for volunteers and peer mentors; If interested, there a volunteer application can be found at www.hvcvr.org/volunteer.
A Change.org petition has also been created to “show our leadership their constituents believe in the program. It will enable them to have the funds released and ensure the funds are no longer considered discretionary,” as written by Kevin Keaveny, the petitions creator. The petition is directed towards Gov. Cuomo and has been signed by 644 people as of March 4.