BUFFALO — Jeremy Anderson is a veteran who served in Afghanistan, but he faced his biggest battle when he got home. The Cheektowaga resident is caring for his two children, one of whom is an infant, while grappling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Anderson and other veterans residing in Western New York made their way to the Veterans One-Stop Center on Friday morning to show their support for greater, and permanent, state funding of the Joseph P. Dwyer Program.
Dwyer was a veteran from Suffolk County who survived combat in Iraq, but could not transition into civilian life and committed suicide. The program named after him endeavors to reach out to veterans and encourage them to find the strength to continue living through peer-to-peer support.
State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, is calling on the Legislature to double state funding for the program, currently $7 million, and make the Dwyer program a permanent budget line.
“(Andrew) Cuomo would always leave it out of the budget and make veterans come and make a deal to fund the program, which is mental health services that save veterans lives. It was a negotiation tactic,” Ortt’s district director Andrew Dugan said. “We shouldn’t have to beg to save veterans’ lives.”
At a Friday press conference at the One-Stop Center, Ortt suggested Dwyer program funding is a small investment that reaps big returns.
“It’s not a big program. When you think about the budget just proposed by the Governor, $224 billion, we could lose the Dwyer program from a dollars standpoint and you wouldn’t even know it,” he said. “Yet that funding has gone to save lives, to bring veterans back from the abyss, get them engaged, help them get jobs, restore their families and just make them active members of our American society.”
The suicide rate among veterans exceeds 20 per day, Ortt noted.
Dan Arnold, director of the Veterans One-Stop Center, outlined what the Dwyer program does for veterans in Western New York.
“The purpose of our program is to get veterans out into the community and get them out of their isolation. It’s also to provide a safe, comfortable area they can be around and people they’re comfortable being around. … veterans are comfortable around other veterans,” he said.
About 18 to 20 outreach and gathering events are held per month in Erie and Niagara counties, Arnold said. They’re small gatherings centered around activities such as rock climbing, curling, bowling and walking. Some groups of veterans are learning photography, scuba diving, sailing, and — soon — beekeeping.
“It’s not about what we’re doing, it’s about veterans getting together and doing things in the community. That’s why it’s so important to us,” Arnold said.
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