A package of bills currently under consideration in New York State would benefit military personnel and veterans with everything from increased employment services and property tax relief to added protections from violent offenders. The bill would also create safeguards for military memorial sites and cemeteries and provide funding for previously cut veterans’ initiatives.
“The legislative measures will help protect the well-being of those who defend our freedoms, ease their financial worries, connect them with crucial benefits, and honor their service,” said John A. DeFrancisco, Senate Majority Leader, following the Senate’s passage of the bill on May 15. The bill is currently pending in the Assembly.
“As legislators, we must ensure we’re doing everything possible to make life better for our service members and their families who have sacrificed so much for us,” DeFrancisco said.
The proposed package is a combination of 29 bills that aim to:
- make it more affordable for military personnel and veterans to live and thrive in New York;
- connect service members, veterans and their families with services;
- protect the welfare of military personnel; and
- show respect and recognition of military service.
Making it More Affordable to Live and Thrive in New York
Six separate bills would focus on areas of employment and living for veterans and military personnel, including the creation of a task force to study and improve the job market for veterans. Establishment of a “Hire a Vet” program would provide grants to municipalities when a veteran is hired and employed.
A certified service-disabled veteran-owned business enterprise development and lending program would help provide financial and technical assistance to disabled veterans starting a business in New York. The program would build upon the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Act, enacted in 2014, and help guarantee that certified service-disabled veteran-owned businesses have the necessary assistance to succeed.
Another bill would grant a second real property tax exemption for two qualified veterans living in the same household. Other bills would provide for free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses to state residents who are active-duty members and free Empire Passports for state park usage. Active-duty service members and their immediate families would be eligible for the free entry to state parks by providing their military ID upon entry.
Connecting Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families to Services
Surviving dependent family members of state military personnel who died performing official military duties would receive free tuition, room and board at the City University of New York or State University of New York (SUNY) institutions, or a commensurate amount to be applied to a public college or university. It would also allow anyone who served in active duty in the U.S. Military to attend SUNY colleges and universities as in-state residents.
In addition, eligibility dates for military-enhanced recognition, incentive and tribute scholarships would be changed to include all the military conflicts that occurred on or after June 1, 1982. Updates would also be made to veteran provisions for leaves of absence for public employees to continue their education by including the current federal veterans’ educational programs.
Other benefits would provide:
- assistance to service-related disabled veterans by giving those with a VA disability rating of 40 percent or higher a preference in applications to the state’s Affordable Home Ownership Development Program.
- a mechanism for deployed parents or guardians to appoint a temporary guardian for minor children.
- that military personnel scheduled for deployment in less than 30 days could get married within 24 hours of receiving their marriage license.
- increases to the base amount of the annuity for legally blind veterans and their unmarried widows and recommendations to the Director of the Office for the Aging on policies, programs, services, and trends affecting the aging veteran population.
- job protections for public and private employees who live outside of New York and are deployed as active National Guard duty members.
- an annual increase to the Gold Star Parent Annuity (compensation for parents who lost a son or daughter in the armed services during a war) and allow the ballot of active-duty service members who die in combat to be counted toward the election for which they were cast.
- the creation of a study on homeless veterans and potential solutions.
Protecting the Welfare of Military Personnel
The measure to protect the welfare of military personnel would make it a Class D felony to incite violence against active-duty and reserve military service members and a Class C felony to assault an active-duty soldier if the accused’s intent was to prevent that soldier from performing his or her lawful duty. Impersonation of a veteran or military personnel would be a Class E felony crime and those convicted would be required to pay a fee toward the veterans’ cemetery fund.
Showing Respect for and Recognition of Service to Country
Under the proposed bill, a “Veterans Memorials Preservation Act” would provide protection to memorials throughout the state and allow for the preservation of military historical sites in New York. A veterans’ cemetery funding program would expand the Veterans Remembrance and Cemetery Maintenance and Operation Fund and New York State Veterans Cemetery program.
Out of recognition for the military and those who served—including animals—March 13 would be designated K9 Veterans Day in New York. New Korean War Service and Vietnam War Service medals would be created, while veterans exposed to dioxin or phenoxy herbicides during military service would receive a special certificate to help bring awareness to the effects of exposure to tactical herbicides such as Agent Orange.
Anthony J. Kuhn, Esq. is the Managing Partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Buffalo office. A First Sergeant in the United States Army Reserve and a combat veteran, Mr. Kuhn focuses much of his time on the representation of military personnel, federal employees and federal agents, as well as private employers and not-for-profit corporations.