The Erie County Legislature, led by the co-sponsorship of the Democratic Majority Caucus, unanimously approved creating an ad hoc legislature committee on veterans empowerment at its July 12 session.
The ad hoc veterans empowerment committee will be made up of legislators, representatives of veterans service agencies and community volunteers.
“This ad hoc veterans empowerment committee can become a powerful vehicle for an open dialogue among the government, academic and human service agencies that serve Erie County veterans and their families,” County Legislature Chairperson Betty Jean Grant (D-Buffalo) said. “The Erie County Office of Veterans’ Affairs counsels and assists veterans and their dependents to ensure that they receive all the benefits available to them under federal, state and local laws. The Office of Veterans Affairs performs an excellent job in these duties for veterans, including help with the GI Bill, Veterans Affairs compensation and pension benefits, access to medical care at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and small business development for veterans who are entrepreneurs.”
“But federal agencies report that only 30 percent of veterans actually utilize their federal and state educational benefits. Also, not all veterans have been provided the proper information on all of the medical care available to them, and this includes not only physical health care, but also mental health care; June was known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Month,” Chairperson Grant continued. “Official data states that 1.5 million veterans access treatment provided by the VA health care system by 21,000 mental health professionals, averaging out to 72 veterans per mental health professional.”
“It is fitting and proper for this legislative body, as the locally elected representatives of every veteran in our community, to ascertain the availability of mental health services from the VA system, to advocate for increased services and to provide for a safety net among mental health providers in the general community for all veterans who may to be able to access services from the VA in time to meet their urgent needs,” Chairperson Grant added.
She was pleased that among the members of the committee will be Legislature Majority Leader Thomas J. Mazur (D-Buffalo, Cheektowaga), a U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran, and former Legislator Daniel M. Kozub, a U.S. Navy veteran.