Photo: Exit12 Dance Company
Entering the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard is an incredible act of bravery and sacrifice. Enlisted members of the service sign on to serve in times of war or peace, with an explicit willingness to give up their lives, or their limbs, in service of the country.
The Empire State has the fifth-largest population of veterans in the country, with about 838,000 calling New York home, according to the NYS Health Foundation. Currently, women make up about 7 percent of that population, a number expected to rise to 10 percent by 2025. Slightly more than half of the veterans are 65 or older. In New York City, about 29 percent of the veterans served in Vietnam, 13 percent served in Korea, 11 percent served in World War II, 11 percent served in the Gulf War, and the remaining 11 percent served in the conflicts that emerged after 9/11, according to the Department of Veterans’ Services.
Their sacrifice is remarkable, yet, for many of us, the only times we really honor these heroes among us are on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The rest of the year, too frequently, veterans are overlooked and underserved when they sometimes need our help getting jobs, finding housing, and dealing with the trauma of exposure to war, pain, and suffering.
New York State offers a number of benefits for its veterans, including education benefits, EZ Pass, tax exemptions, burial cost allowances, reduced fees for hunting and fishing and state park admission, and other benefits. But these do not necessarily do enough to reintegrate our veterans into the civilian world.
In honor of our intrepid veterans, we looked for programs giving veterans a helping hand after they’ve done so much for us. Even if your life does not intersect with the veterans’ community on a day-to-day basis, you can show your support with a contribution to one or more of these organizations.
Please read on.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
Volunteers of America, Greater New York: The transition from the armed forces to civilian life can be difficult and protracted. Thankfully, there are readjustment counseling services available for veterans and their families provided by the Volunteers of America, and covering a range of potential issues, from individual and group therapy, to substance abuse assessments and federal benefits explanation and referral. This organization works in tandem with several other nonprofits, including The Soldiers Project, the National Veterans Crisis Line, and Therapist Finder.
VetsThriveNYC: This program offers an integrative approach to health and healing, and is an offshoot of New York City First Lady Chirlaine McCray’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative. Through Thrive, vets can access free mental health treatment at Headstrong and free healthcare through NYU-Langone’s Military Family Clinic.
Headstrong: Founded in 2012 by Zach Iscol in partnership with one of the world’s leading mental health centers, Weill Cornell, Headstrong has developed individually tailored treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other traumas that can result from military service. Their treatments are measured via clinical outcomes and patient feedback; 83% of Headstrong’s patients report improved mental health post-treatment.
Institute for Veterans and Military Families located at Syracuse University: Self described as “higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the post-service lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families,” this organization offers a variety of resources, programs, and publications. Their Onward to Opportunity Program at Fort Drum is only one example.
State Bureau of Veterans Education: The mission of this program is to inspect and supervise programs for veterans offered at educational institutions and training establishments, and assist veterans in exploring their enrollment options. The Bureau also helps veterans utilize their G.I. Bill Education Benefits.
State Division of Veterans’ Services: A program through the State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA) offers special fixed-rate mortgages with interest rates at 0.375% below rates charged on typical SONYMA mortgages, with down payment assistance worth up to 3% of the home purchase.
Homeless Veterans Services: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helps vets dealing with homelessness across the country. Through public housing authorities, vets are able to access rental assistance and get connected to health care, mental health, and substance abuse services.
USAA: USAA provides veterans with a range of insurance options, from property to cars to homes. They also have an expedited life insurance application process, and discounts for active and former service members.
State Division of Veterans Services: A program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has created specific programs to help vets start a business and become qualified as a veteran-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned business, which qualifies them for federal assistance. In addition to the help getting set up, New York State has committed 6 percent of its state contract work to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.
Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialists: This state-sponsored program is run by disabled veterans themselves, who offer intensive case management services to vets with barriers to employment, training programs, resume services, and interview preparation services.
Veterans Voices Project: The New York City Department of Veterans’ Services has created an oral history initiative designed to help veterans tell their story, bridge generational gaps, preserve history, and foster an appreciation for service. Vets can sign up to share their stories, and the project will connect them with volunteers who can simply record their stories over the phone. If they are willing, the stories will be sent to the Library of Congress and the New York State Veterans Oral History Project for archiving.
ARTS & CULTURE
Exit 12: A contemporary dance company created to inspire conversations about the impact of violence and conflict on communities and families, Exit 12 aims to educate audiences about the reality of war, but also help those who have been touched by war to heal. Exit 12 was founded by a U.S. Marine Iraq War Veteran and two ballerinas and currently offers an online portal for art workshops specifically designed for vets and their families. There is also a fascinating array of photos, video, and multimedia projects that anyone can review.
Veteran Artist Program: This nonprofit welcomes veteran artists and helps them make their way into full-fledged careers in the arts through networking, mentorships, and collaboration. Based in New York City, it is expanding throughout the state and country.
IAVA: The IAVA was founded to redefine Veterans Day (November 11th this year), and to serve and empower veterans of wars from Iraq and Afghanistan. They cover all bases, and assist everyone. IAVA’s mission statement: “The veterans movement is for every veteran. Our diversity is our strength. We are a community that welcomes everyone, of every background, time period, and discharge status. The veterans movement is not for veterans alone. Our success is America’s success. We believe everyone can do something to help.”
Finding housing, healthcare, work and creative outlets, for too long, have been out of reach to too many returning veterans. We’re grateful that these organizations have stepped up and stepped in to give a hand to the people who have given so much to keep us free and safe.