Assemblymen Gallahan & Ashby Hold Event For ‘No Surrender’ Veteran Initiative: Making PTSD A Priority

Today, Assemblymen Jeff Gallahan and Jake Ashby, along with their colleagues in the Assembly Republican Conference, hosted the “No Surrender” Veteran Initiative: Making PTSD a Priority roundtable event in Canandaigua.

The event, one of several regional roundtables being organized by the Assembly Minority Conference, was aimed at addressing the pervasive issue of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) facing veterans, as well as law enforcement, health care and emergency service personnel.

“Our first responders and military personnel are asked time and again to put their physical and mental health on the line. In turn, it’s our job to give them the resources and support they need to stay healthy and safe,” said Assemblyman Gallahan (R,C-Manchester). “Today, we took a big step toward improving the wellbeing of all those who are pressed into trauma, and we will use the information we gathered here to build a better, stronger and more effective mental health response in New York state.”

“Military personnel and frontline first responders are routinely exposed to emergencies and other circumstances that dramatically impact their mental health. Too often, these incidents create lasting mental health challenges that go largely unaddressed,” said Assemblyman Ashby (R,C,I-Castleton). “For that reason, I have introduced and co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to help address this issue, including a bill to make the Division of Veterans’ Services into its own independent state agency. This evening’s event in Canandaigua was an important step toward reshaping our state’s treatment plan, and I am hopeful that with the feedback we have gathered we can better formulate short- and long-term strategies to adequately address mental health concerns.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed several flaws in the state’s health care system, especially as they related to individuals coping with anxiety, depression and PTSD. Those wishing to show their support for Assemblyman Ashby’s legislation (A.3725) are encouraged to sign a recently launched petition here.

“Gatherings like the one that took place here today give an outlet to those who may not have otherwise had an opportunity to discuss these complex issues with experts, counterparts and lawmakers all at once. This forum gave our suffering frontline defenders a voice, and I am proud to have been a part of that effort,” said Assemblyman Joseph M. Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda). “Mental health issues can be some of the most difficult to talk about out loud, and I am very happy to see so many brave men and women share their experiences here today. This is a great building block.”

“Not only do our veterans become heroes because of their service in our Armed Forces, but many of them are also active members of our community. For example, they serve on the frontlines as law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, nurses and highway crews who help us during emergencies and natural disasters,” said Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes (R,C-Caledonia). “These tough jobs prove that their commitment to serving the community didn’t stop when their military uniform came off – our commitment to them shouldn’t stop either. They are the small business owners who sponsor Little League teams or are the first to donate goods for a community raffle. I am so proud to be helping bring this issue to light here in the Finger Lakes. These brave men and women, many of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet, have served in our military and continue to make our hometowns the places we love. They deserve the support they give us every day. It’s about supporting them in their time of need, as they have been and continue to be there for us.”

“The mental health and wellbeing of our military personnel upon their return home has not been given the time and attention it deserves,” said Assemblyman Brian Manktelow (R,C,I-Lyons). “Having served in the U.S. Army, I have seen firsthand the number of individuals who struggle with mental health challenges and seeing those challenges manifest in generation after generation of our service members, it is more clear now than ever that something must be done. The conversation we had today is a great place to start, and the continuation of this dialogue is critical to ensuring the right programs in place to help anyone in need.”

“As a veteran, I understand the unique challenges that come with being exposed to situations outside normal stress limitations,” said Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R,C,I,SAM-Johnstown). “We must find ways to alleviate the lasting impact these events have on our military personnel, and these forums are designed to do just that. I am hopeful what we have accomplished here today will help us craft the legislation and policies needed to protect the mental health of our military and emergency service workers.”

“Mental health services for veterans and first responders are too often overlooked at every level of government,” said Assemblyman Josh Jensen (R,C,I-Greece). “Those exposed to high-stress, and often dangerous, work environments require special care and attention that they are not getting. I am proud to be able to do my part to help remedy the fact and help close the gap between the services that are offered and the services that are needed.”

“Anytime there is a public policy issue as complex as mental health services, it is critical we have a dialogue and keep the lines of communication open. Being a retired U.S. Army Colonel, I was honored to be a part of today’s conversation in Canandaigua,” said Assemblyman John Lemondes (R,C,I-Lafayette). “Having served, I understand the difficulties that come with this line of work. What we must do now is evaluate those challenges and develop a plan that adequately addresses the time, energy and resources needed to deal with them upfront and in a manner in which individuals seeking help feel comfortable and trust the process.”

The Conference is also advocating for legislation requiring the Office of Mental Health to conduct a study related to using therapeutic PTSD techniques (A.8377, Giglio, JM), among other measures, including:

  • A.3501, Ashby – Establishes a peer-to-peer mental-health support program modeled after the successful Joseph P. Dwyer Program for frontline health care workers; provides confidential, peer-to-peer assistance for individuals struggling with depression, anxiety or PTSD.
  • A.04646, Ashby – Allows first responders who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to request line of duty sick leave.
  • A.03585, Ashby – Relates to establishing a green alert system for missing military members.
  • A.04999, Ashby – Establishes the “New York’s Own Combat Veterans Health Care Choice Program Act” to establish tax-free savings accounts to pay the health care costs of certain combat veterans until covered by the federal government.
  • A.03783, Norris – Establishes the New York State Volunteer Fire Protection Emergency Reimbursement Account.
  • A.5103, Reilly – Requires the Office of Mental Health, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Education to create a behavioral health website which shall provide information on various behavioral health issues such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
  • A.03506, Hawley – Relates to a leave of absence for military spouses.
  • A.05793, Palmesano – Enacts the “Omnibus Emergency Services Volunteer Incentive Act” to provide certain benefits to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.
  • A.04846, Miller, B. – Creates a veterans’ clearinghouse for purposes of identifying veterans eligible for benefits.
  • A.03782, DeStefano – Designates certain emergency and public safety dispatchers and operators as first responders.
  • A.07483, Ra – Relates to capital costs of construction, improvement, rehabilitation or reconstruction of facilities owned by veterans’ organizations; allows for state grants to be used for VFWs, American Legion Posts, etc.

Editor’s NotePhotos of today’s PTSD event in Canandaigua can be viewed here and here.