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COLUMN: Identity, Health Services, and Employment Laws Improved to Benefit Veterans

— During Veteran's Day in November, we pause to honor our veterans and thank them for their many sacrifices. I wanted to make you aware of some legislative changes that took place this year in our state affecting veterans and their families.

Driver ID

Last month New York chaptered a law that helps veterans identify themselves more easily. This law directs the Commission of Motor Vehicles to provide, at no additional cost, for a distinguishing mark on a driver’s license or non-driver identification card indicating that the holder is a veteran of the U.S. armed forces. This law came about because it is sometimes difficult for veterans to provide proof when applying for veteran benefits such as health services, or discounts that businesses offer to veterans, for example. Previously, they were forced to provide multiple forms and often, don't have these many forms readily available.

With this mark, if the veteran has their license, they are more easily able to receive a discount at a restaurant or through a service provider. I was pleased to support this during our last session. It passed unanimously in the Assembly.

Mental health and chemical-dependency services

Last month, the Governor signed a bill into law that directs the State Veterans’ Affairs commission to develop an interagency plan to address the needs of returning veterans. I was pleased to support this in the Assembly as well. This law will ideally get services to veterans who are experiencing mental health or substance abuse problems without forcing them to visit multiple state agencies. This includes assistance with housing, employment, substance abuse, suicide prevention and mental health services.

Combat-related mental illness has been and still is a critical issue for American war veterans. More than 85,000 New Yorkers have participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraq Freedom or both since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the legislation. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, at least one in three Iraq veterans and one in nine Afghanistan veterans will face mental health issues like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Multiple tours have increased the stress of combat.

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