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New York to Develop Strategies to Assist Returning Veterans and Their Families

Governor David A. Paterson recently announced that New York was one of nine states and one territory that participated in the National Policy Academy for returning veterans; a public-private collaborative aimed at developing strategies to improve services provided to returning veterans needing assistance with human, social and economic challenges.

“Our men and women in military service place their lives on the line to protect New Yorkers and all Americans. When they return home, we must ensure that they and their families have the necessary services and support they need to readjust to everyday life,” said Governor Paterson. “This public-private partnership, that crosses service systems lines, will guarantee that the challenges our returning veterans and their families face are addressed.”

As the first step to improve coordination of services, leaders from public and private service agencies in New York State met with federal leaders and similar teams from the participating states August 11-13, 2008 in Bethesda Maryland, to develop comprehensive strategies in assisting returning veterans and their families. The National Policy Academy was coordinated and sponsored by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

During three days of workshops, panel discussions and working sessions, New York State team members explored new approaches for helping returning veterans and their families address problems and concerns in such areas as finances and insurance, family relationships, health and mental health care, substance abuse issues, employment, and complex medical injuries.

New York’s team included representatives from the Captain Timothy J. Moshier-Memorial Foundation, Samaritan Village Inc.; Jefferson County Community Services; Office of New York State’s Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services; New York State Offices of Mental Health and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services; New York State Departments of Health and Labor; New York State Divisions of Veteran Affairs and Military and Naval Affairs; and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Jim McDonough, Director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs, said: “The development of a comprehensive strategy to help returning veterans and their families has been one of our highest priorities. I am pleased with New York’s leadership in this effort and pledge to do our very best so that veterans and their families find ‘no wrong door’ when it comes to accessing benefits and services.”

Major General Joseph Taluto, Adjutant General, Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said: “The Division of Military and Naval Affairs is continually seeking to improve the services we offer to our New York Army and Air National Guard members returning from combat deployments. Our reintegration program is designed to ease the transition from full-time Soldier to civilian and we embrace any way to improve it. Since 9/11 more than 9000 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen have served in combat zones and we owe these men and women nothing less.”

Michael F. Hogan, PhD, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, said: “Our shared goal is to have accessible, competent and welcoming support throughout New York State for all veterans and their families who require our assistance. Our soldiers are currently involved in a conflict that produces unbelievable stresses because of multiple deployments and the close, violent and unpredictable nature of the conflict. It is becoming evident that behavioral health problems are among the leading health challenges of this war, as they are in society. But we owe a special debt to soldiers and their families to help when it’s needed.”

Commissioner Karen M. Carpenter-Palumbo, of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, said: “With one million veterans in New York and increasing drug and alcohol use among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, this is a critical time for OASAS to respond with treatment and recovery services. We know that four out of 10 of the veterans in our system are struggling with a mental health disorder and that criminal justice problems and homelessness are major problems. This Policy Academy collaboration will provide support, better coordinate resources and take action to support veterans and their families.”

State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, MD, said: “Our goal is to create an enhanced service delivery system to address the health care needs of returning veterans and their families. We are committed to working with direct care providers and our federal, state and local partners to make access to needed services as seamless as possible.”

State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith said: “The brave men and women of our armed forces fight to defend freedoms at home and abroad every day; and at the Department of Labor, we give priority service to veterans seeking employment assistance through the state’s One-Stop Career Centers. We must make employers more aware of the strengths that veterans offer. They have done their duty – now it is up to us to provide training and job opportunities so they can step into a career and build a successful life on their military experience.”

New York was chosen to participate based upon a competitive application process. The New York team will continue to meet until October 15, when a comprehensive strategy will be submitted to the Academy coordinators and Governor Paterson for his consideration. Other states and territories chosen to participate include: American Samoa, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

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