Veterans Day Column from Assemblyman Jake Ashby (R,C,I,Ref-Castleton)

We view veterans and Veterans Day through our own lens. At a recent East Greenbush Honor a Veteran Ceremony, “Ted” Shelby Edward Summers was honored along with his brother, Harold, and David Caneen. Ted was a B-24 pilot during WWII in the pacific theater. After returning home he earned his master’s degree in chemistry and attended MIT for quantitative electron microanalysis. His work and research contributed to the development of medical imaging. Ted spent his time in combat gaining a high-altitude perspective, and when he resumed civilian life his fields narrowed substantially- geographically and socially. The dichotomy is noteworthy. I thought about the success Ted earned as a scientist, and the difficulties veterans encounter after combat while readjusting to civilian life. How did he remain steadfast in his professional and personal pursuits? A large part of the answer is his family. Speaking with his family at the ceremony in East Greenbush broadened our view of his experience. His family was a stabilizing force and no doubt a galvanizing factor. Ted’s family enabled him to retain focus as he acclimated to civilian life. Having a reliable and positive support system is essential for reintegrating veterans. When this variable is absent, perceptions, focus and ultimately lives can become disoriented. Conversely, the Summers family provided a wonderful example of how we can share the responsibility of steadying the aim of our reintegrating veterans.

“Happy Veterans Day” and “Thank you for your service” are common expressions of gratitude we’ll share on November 11, as well we should. Whether we have served, or have family members and friends who’ve donned the uniform, it’s important to display our appreciation. In a time when we are reminded by social media about birthdays and anniversaries, I believe it’s important to take a few minutes and contemplate the sacrifices of those who chose to serve. How many birthdays were celebrated while they were away? How many anniversaries passed by in their absence? How many funerals and first days of school slipped by while they were doing what less than 1% of our citizenry embraces? Imagine having to adopt the lifestyle of a single parent for extended periods of time, wondering if, or how, your spouse will return. Consider the strength of the families while their service member is preparing to deploy, is already deployed or has returned and is reintegrating. Our freedoms rest on this enduring collective effort that is carried out by so few. All families encounter turmoil and hardship, some more severe than others- but these families opted to shoulder it through a life of service. Please remember them too on Veterans Day and each day we act upon our freedoms as Americans.

As your Assemblyman, I have authored the following bills addressing long-standing issues affecting our veterans and their families. As we near the upcoming legislative session, I am asking for your support and attention to these bills:

  1. Upgrade the Division of Veterans Affairs to an official state department, led by a director who would be a cabinet-level official. This department would have the increased ability to coordinate veteran programs for the over 900,000 NYS veterans.
  2. Ensure Veterans Day Observance – Nov. 11 as an official state holiday and mandate that if Nov. 11 falls on a weekend, that a designated day will be mandated as a state holiday for observation.
  3. Create a Veterans Legal Defense Fund to help provide legal services to our veterans.
  4. Initiate a study with the goal of finding the best locations for three new Veterans Nursing Homes across NYS to properly care for our aging veteran population.
  5. Add veterans to the list of protected classes for purposes of public housing.
  6. Establish a Veterans Health Savings Account to help fill the gap between active duty service medical care and care through the VA.
  7. Enact the ‘NYS Green Alert’ program which will create a network to alert the public and law enforcement agencies when a veteran is missing or unaccounted for.
  8. Mandate that NYS issue all eligible unissued medals to veterans.
  9. Allow veterans with a service-connected disability the ability to use our state parks free of charge.