Veteran advocates meet with NYS lawmakers to discuss resources, aid, and reintegration

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TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s not easy leaving an armed tour and suddenly trying to fit in in a place where there’s no fight.

“[Veterans] get out and they feel fairly isolated. They’ve come from a very social network intense environment. So they had teams they were really close with all the time and then they’re on their own all of a sudden,” explains Marine Corps veteran Dean Koyanagi.

Congressman Antonio Delgado lead a panel discussion in Troy Friday.

Representatives from veterans reintegration programs, small business organizations, and even farming groups pitched in on how they each can help servicemen and women make the transition to civilian life.

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“It’s really great to see some of the veterans getting together and doing fence building exercises, or we built a greenhouse together, and they really enjoy that camaraderie. They also get a chance to do service to another veteran or to their community by growing and doing things in their community,” says Koyanagi who is also the director of Cornell Farm Ops. “It’s getting out in nature, working with their hands, and also having that down time from their service.”

Assemblyman Jake Ashby says for his part, he hopes to use his seat to make sure fellow veterans don’t suffer the struggle he went through after leaving the armed forces.

“When I got out of the military, I struggled with alcohol, and, you know, I needed help. It was a hard thing,” Ashby says to News 10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “It’s a hard thing for veterans, you know, across the board that are struggling with addiction or other things to reach out for help. I think we can do a lot better job in New York State in taking care of that issue.”

Both Ashby and Congressman Delgado said during the session as a Republican and Democrat, respectively, they prioritize bipartisan support for veterans issues.

“When men and women go off to fight, they don’t go to fight for democrats or republicans, or any party. They go off to fight for the people of our nation and for their families, so when they come home, I think it’s imperative that we work together to support them,” Ashby says.

The legislators also add they plan to take the items discussed at Friday’s panel back with them when they approach legislative session.

“We heard stories today about veterans who are sleeping under bridges, who because of certain conditions don’t qualify for grant funding. We’ve got to revisit that and understand that no veteran should be put in that position. We’ve got to put real funding behind the Department of Labor’s Homeless Reintegration Grant Program,” Congressman Delgado says.

“I author legislation that would make veterans a protected class for public housing so I’m hopeful that we can get that done this year,” Ashby adds.

“Also important, it was noted that when our veterans come back that we need to have some sort of system that alerts us at the federal, but more importantly at the local level, to reach out to those veterans to make sure there’s a welcoming and warm hand on the other side of their service,” Delgado continues.

Congressman Delgado says he hopes events like this will encourage county, state, and federal agencies to work together so no veteran goes underserved.

“We heard one of the panelists say, you know we’re half an hour apart, but it took a panel discussion for us to come together. I think it’s so important to make sure that we are doing that work and making sure that people who are on the front lines doing this have the capacity to build their relationships and make it easier for those in the community, the veteran community, to take advantage of these programs,” he says.

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