A proposal to cut $5.6 million from veterans programs in the 2020-21 state budget will be bad for veterans and all communities that support these warriors.

The Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Program, which mentors veterans with trained peers who have also served in combat, is facing the largest proposed cut at around $4.1 million. Columbia County’s program is slated to lose $100,000, according to the state Assembly Minority Conference.

“Veterans should be the last thing in the world they should even think about cutting money on,” Command Sgt. Gary Flaherty, executive director of Columbia County Veterans Services, said earlier this week in Albany. “It has helped so many veterans, and we are reaching out to more every day.”

Flaherty, 75, served in the Vietnam War as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1966-67 near a base camp in Phu Loi, Vietnam. He traveled to the state Capitol to lobby Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore $5.6 million in proposed cuts to veterans programs.

In response to the threat of cuts, Flaherty is trying to shed light on the impact peer mentoring and other state and local veterans programs have had on his life and mental health.

Flaherty has suffered from PTSD since his time in combat more than 50 years ago. He also served a three-year tour at the German-Russian border and in South Korea from 1984-85, which serves as a catalyst for his traumatic memories of Vietnam that came rushing back nearly two decades later.

In cold, hard terms, post traumatic stress disorder affects a variable number of veterans depending on their service era, according to the U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs. About 30% of Vietnam veterans had PTSD in their lifetime, with 15% of those soldiers having a current diagnosis. About 12% of Gulf War veterans and between 11% and 20% of Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers are diagnosed with PTSD in a given year.

PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, eating disorders, panic attacks, relationship problems and anxiety. Symptoms and severity vary from veteran to veteran, Flaherty said, depending on the trauma they experienced.

Twenty-three percent of women and 38% of men reported sexual assault while in the military, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Flaherty has helped six veterans in Columbia County — four females and two males — who experienced sexual assault while enlisted in the armed forces.

A growing population of young veterans suffering from PTSD is a scary proposition. Local governments need all preventive methods at their disposal to address it effectively. We must remember that these courageous men and women put their lives on the line to protect ours with no debate or argument. The governor and the state Legislature need to keep this in mind as well. Full funding of the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Program should be restored without delay.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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