OMBUDSMAN ALERT: State eliminates $4.7M in funding for veterans mental health program, including $185K for BRIDGES in Rockland County, putting services for returning veterans at risk

BY DR. LOUIS ALPERT
Ombudsman

In Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2019 state budget, $4.7 million in funding designated for the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program has been cut statewide. The program has been effective improving the lives of many troubled returning US war veterans, many of whom were considered at risk of mental health crises, including suicide.

In Rockland County alone, $185,000 allocated to the non-profit group BRIDGES to administer the program has been eliminated. Carlos Martinez, executive director of the Rockland BRIDGES program, said this cut will put the program “entirely out of business” in our county.

State officials expressed disapproval of the defunding of BRIDGES’ veterans program.

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee said, “In gratitude for their service to this nation, our veterans and their families deserve the resources and support they need, “ said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee. “New York State has a moral responsibility to ensure the economic stability and mental wellness of the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. “As a member of the Mental Health Committee, I am committed to providing adequate funding in the budget for mental health services and programs.”

Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski said, “I have long supported the Joseph P. Dwyer program and am pushing for the restoration of funding in the final budget. The Dwyer funding has allowed BRiDGES to implement a successful peer to peer program that provides veterans with effective support services. I have pledged my full support for this important program and am fighting to see it continued.”

Senator David Carlucci said at a press conference, “It is shameful that the Governor did not provide funding for the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program. This is about supporting the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and may return needing our help. We cannot let PTSD and TBI take another veteran’s life, which is why I support $4.7 million in funding for this program in our state’s budget.”

On Monday of this week, the Ombudsman Alert interviewed a prominent Rockland physician, Richard King, MD, who was a former wartime army colonel and a staunch supporter of the Dwyer program. Colonel King knows firsthand of its critical value in preventing suicides from a medical health point of view.

A most significant and ironic contrast, suggested by both the Ombudsman Alert, as well as others including Martinez, is that our governor is willing to spend millions of dollars on removing and replacing the original Tappan Zee Bridge signs by Cuomo giving his family “free” publicity, but stood unwilling to fund the vital veterans program to save the lives of many of our returning US war veterans.

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