Veterans counseling program eyed for Greene County expansion

Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer saves a wounded child while serving as a U.S. Army Medic in the Irag War. The program named in Dwyer’s memory could be coming soon to Greene County.

CATSKILL — The Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Support Program began nine years ago as a way for vets to help their peers in crisis.

The initiative could be coming to Greene County in the near future.

Twenty-five counties in New York including Columbia are receiving a portion of the program’s annual $4.5 million in state aid, and during a meeting on Monday night, the Greene County Legislature’s County Services Committee unanimously approved a resolution expressing interest in becoming the 26th county to participate in the Dwyer program.

If the resolution is approved by the full Legislature, the next step would see the county appeal to its state representatives through the County Veterans Service Agency for inclusion in the program.

Kevin Keaveny, president of the Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration, gave a presentation to the Legislature on the program’s value. Keaveny said working with the Dwyer organization helped his recovery process after serving in the battlefield.

“I’m a combat veteran and I struggled deeply when I came back from Afghanistan in 2010,” he said. “I found my healing process through occupational therapy and I had no idea what that word meant when I first came back. I’m a blue-collar guy and I spent most of my life working with my hands. I started out building kayaks with veterans and was amazed at the success. All four of the first participants have gone on to have successful careers and they have been fully reintegrated.”

Gavin Walters, program manager of the Dwyer Program in Ulster County, said veterans connected with peers in a welcoming environment is an effective way to assist vets dealing with trauma.

“Within our own struggles, we see that for another veteran they see us when we’re at our strongest and our weakest,” he told the legislature. “From that we can encourage each other and we’re able to help one another get to that right place. The first thing we did in the Dwyer Program last year was to walk from Kingston to Albany. It was 56 miles and 22 hours. That was to raise awareness for all of the things that are happening in the military community with suicide, mental health and homelessness.”

Walters said the group of veterans walked through Greene County in the middle of the night on their way to the state capitol to meet with their representatives.

Keaveny presented the legislature with a proposed 2021-2022 budget for a Dwyer Veteran Support Program if the program was approved at the highest funding level of $185,000 annually.

The proposed spending plan would include $107,809 for salaries, with $13,000 earmarked for travel expenses and $12,000 set aside for programs and activities.

“A lot of times we find we help our struggling veterans by building boats or creative writing programs,” Keaveny said. “Sometimes it’s just about coming into the office and having a cup of coffee. A vet will come in and laugh and joke with us, only to find out several visits down the road that this guy or girl is close to losing their home or is in crisis with their family. It’s just nuts and bolts, grassroots stuff. It’s nothing magic, it’s just hard work and dedication.”

Greene County Veterans Service Agency Director Michelle Romalin Black said the Dwyer Program would like to be established in the county in advance of the Christmas season if office space could be found for the group.

Keaveny said the organization worked for years without state funding and could set up shop in the county quickly, even before the state funding would theoretically be approved.

During the committee meeting, Legislator Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, suggested the program would fit in a new county services building, while Romalin Black said that if the Dwyer Program is expanded into Greene County that there is space available in the county’s mental health offices.

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