In February 2013, the administration of President Barack Obama appointed Denis McDonough to serve as White House Chief of Staff, a post he held until January 2017. Now, he is President Joe Biden’s U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
McDonough on Monday stopped in the Hudson Valley and, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19. toured the Kingston Veterans Administration Community Based Outpatient Clinic and Kingston’s Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration and the Columbia County Veterans Services Agency in Greenport before winding up the tour with a visit to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center. McDonough was fascinated by innovative local veteran services around the state before commending Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Flaherty, director of Veterans Services in Columbia County. Flaherty spearheaded and instituted numerous programs at the county center to help area veterans, including the Joseph P. Dwyer peer-to-peer support program, equine-assisted therapy for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and a new program for widows and widowers of servicemembers, to name a few.
“We just don’t do enough to take care of our widows,” Flaherty said Monday. “I have a widow who was turned down for widow’s pension and she lives barely above poverty. They have standards of how much in assets you can have to qualify for the widow’s pension, and she was above that level.”
“What’s happening in this district, in this state, is reflective of what needs to be happening across the country,” McDonough added. “Behind every interesting, innovating, exciting thing happening in this country, you’ll find a veteran. Whether it’s an effort to resettle Afghan refugees, whether it’s the efforts we looked at today to see veterans taking care of one another as they struggle with PTSD or reintegration.”
Local veterans are meeting the challenges faced in Greene and Columbia counties with the same passion and courage they showed when they risked the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country. It’s encouraging to see them recognized for taking on the mission of making the lives of all veterans and their families safer and healthier.