Cutting Veterans’ Services – It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

Cutting Veterans’ Services – It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

By Karl Rohde, director, Putnam County Veterans Service Agency

In 1991, Governor Mario Cuomo attempted to reduce his New York State budget by cutting services to the Veterans of Putnam County.  Today, the legacy continues as his son and current NYS Governor, Andrew Cuomo, attempts a similar strategy.

First, a bit of history — Back in 1991 the New York Division of Veterans Affairs announced that they were going to close the Putnam County office for budgetary reasons.  The closing of the office was going to save about $50,000 out of a $5 Million Budget that had to be cut by $500,000.  Fortunately, Putnam succeeded in mobilizing its Veterans and won a reprieve. As part of the new deal, the Putnam County office would remain open, but the County would foot the bill to house the NY State Division Service officer, and provide secretarial assistance for the two days the service officer was on site.  In addition, the County would also provide clerical assistance on the other three days of the week to schedule appointments, as well as providing phone service and computer access at no charge to the State.

After the State’s second attempt to close the Putnam Office in April 2015 was thwarted, I formally requested, as Director of the Putnam County Veterans Service Agency and provider of free office space, clerical support and amenities to the NYS Division of Veterans Affairs, that we receive notification when and if the Putnam Office would be closed. That following January of 2016, the Division closed the office.  Putnam Veterans Services had to reschedule an estimated 50 Veteran client appointments to other dates at a location in Castle Point, which is about 25 miles from our office in Carmel.  Again, we fought and won to reopen our office, so our Veterans, many of whom are elderly and disabled, would not have to bear the burden of inconvenient, costly and unnecessary travel to meet with a Veterans Service Officer to apply for compensation due to military service.

The punishment continued in 2016 when the Division tried to limit Putnam to one day per week with a Veterans Service Officer.  That was also stopped when we proved the need in Putnam for at least two days per week, if not more.

Now in May of 2017, just weeks before Memorial Day, and the New York State Division, at the insistence of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is keen on denying services to the Veterans of Putnam County again.

In order to save money, the Putnam Office will be closed.  This is nonsense. The Division has to save $300,000 in the current budget.  Notwithstanding that the Governor wants to cut his budget on behalf of Veterans, this closing makes little sense.  Our Veterans Service Officer, Brennan Mahoney, will still be employed 5 days per week by the Division.  He will do all those days at Castle Point alongside another fulltime service officer at the same location.  The Veterans of Putnam, Northern Westchester and Southern Dutchess will now be forced to commute to Castle Point to see Brennan even though there is a second service officer already covering the Castle Point location – and where is the cost savings?  It should also be noted that while the clerk at Castle Point is paid by the State of New York, the clerk in Putnam County still costs the State of New York nothing.

The travel expense and inconvenience to these Veterans has not been considered in the least.  The age of the Veteran or the disability that makes travel difficult has not been weighed in this decision.

Why are these statewide cuts being aimed at the very group of people that the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs is mandated to serve?  To put a fine point on it, why is the Division targeting its own clients?  There are no suggested cut backs in management headcount or salary.  No mention of trying to lower the costs in areas where they rent and or lease office buildings.  Rather than a knee jerk response, why weren’t the cuts more thoughtfully vetted?

Veterans and family members who wish to learn answers to these questions should contact Eric J. Hesse, director, New York State Division of Veterans Affairs at (518) 474-6114.

Historic Putnam County Courthouse Shines Blue in Tribute to Fallen Police Officers during Police Memorial Week

Special Dedication Hosted at Spain Cornerstone Park in Memory of
James J. O’Neill, Founder of the Stephen P. Driscoll Memorial Lodge, FOP
CARMEL, NY – Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced today that the historic Putnam County courthouse located on Gleneida Avenue in Carmel, NY, will be lit up in blue in tribute to fallen police officers during Police Memorial Week, May15 – 21, 2017. The courthouse lighting commenced at sundown on Tuesday, May 15th following a special dedication by the Fraternal Order of Police at Spain Cornerstone Park to honor the late James (Jimmy) O’Neill. Jimmy was an icon in the police community and founding president of the Stephen P. Driscoll Memorial Lodge, a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“This tribute serves to honor the memory of Jimmy O’Neill and all law enforcement professionals who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said County Executive Odell. “Putnam County is the safest county in New York State and we owe that distinction to our state and local police officers who put their lives on the line everyday to protect and serve our citizens.”

The Fraternal Order of Police dedicated a bench at Spain Cornerstone Park in memory of Jimmy O’Neill.  The granite bench was installed, including an in memoriam plaque and the Irish Prayer, across from the 9/11 Monument located at the site.

“Jimmy’s legacy as a police officer, advocate for law enforcement professionals, and highly valued contributor to the community is deservedly recognized through this dedication,” said Steve Conner, board member, Stephen P. Driscoll Memorial Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police.  “We are honored to have a lasting tribute in Jimmy’s name located at a place very near and dear to his heart.”

Editor’s note: Please see photo captions for attached images.

Photo 5319 – Pictured from left: Kathy O’Neill and Jimmy O’Neill, wife and son, respectively, of James J. O’Neill

Photo 5282 – Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell

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