QUEENSBURY — More veterans courts and transportation to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany were among ideas suggested by advocates for veterans issues at a forum Wednesday at SUNY Adirondack.
Benjamin Pomerance, deputy director of program development for the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs, said the agency takes seriously its mission to connect veterans to the full complement of state and federal benefits to which they are entitled.
Pomerance said officials want to get out of Albany and get thoughts and ideas from people. Every year, each major state government department is allowed to send its wish list of items for the Legislature to consider.
“Last year, all five of our department bills came from ideas that were raised from one or more of our community conversations,” he said at the forum at SUNY Adirondack for members of the military, veterans and their families.
The event was sponsored by the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs and the State University of New York.
Diana Pasterchick, SUNY veteran and military affairs coordinator, spoke about her newly created position. She has been working since last December to compile data on veterans from the various campuses. She has also been trying to put together online training for college officials about how to deal with student veterans.
Pasterchick, a veteran herself, said she is used to structure and believes other former military personnel feel the same way.
“Because a lot of folks have never dealt with the military culture, just to have a general broad knowledge of everything in a 10- to 15-minute online class is what I’m going for,” she said.
SUNY Adirondack student Nathan Mount of Greenfield, an Army veteran, said veterans bring a different perspective.
“Don’t treat them like other students that they have because we’re not, because we have life experience. Don’t just blow off what we say,” he said.
The military veterans tend to be more mature, he added.
Pasterchick said another misconception is it is young men in their 20s who are getting out of the service and attending college for a degree or vocational training. The average age of people who completed her college veteran survey was 37, she said.
Veterans do not want to be singled out as different. Pomerance said he has heard that some veterans tend to keep quiet about their military service. When he was at a law conference in New Orleans, he heard another speaker say he was treated differently once it was known he had served in the military.
“I no longer became Joe Smith the student. I was now ‘the veteran,’” Pomerance said.
Beth Faller, a counselor at SUNY Adirondack, said a professor had asked veterans in his class to stand up because he wanted to thank them. People should not do that, she said.
Some veterans need attention because they are struggling, according to Marty Dinan, director of veteran enrollment at The College of Saint Rose in Albany. He said military people may be used to a cycle of training and reward. They complete basic training and earn a rank. They complete additional training and may earn a higher rank. Sometimes, college is a huge culture adjustment, Dinan said.
Frank McClement, director of the Saratoga County Veterans Service Agency, said transportation to the VA center in Albany is an issue. Transportation costs represent about 30 percent of his overall budget. He said county agencies are stretched thin and state Aid to Localities funding has not kept up. He suggested that instead of calculating how much aid a community gets based on population, it should be based on population of veterans.
Harry Treadway, mentor coordinator for the Essex County Veterans Court, said veterans courts are similar to drug courts. Those who have committed lower-level crimes have the opportunity to resolve their case through counseling. Some of these veterans are people who are self-medicating or are dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome, he said.
“He has to go and get treated,” he said.
If the veteran refuses services, then he or she would spend a weekend in jail. That provides a wake-up call, according to Treadway.
SUNY Adirondack has an office of the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs on campus. Ruben Acevedo, veterans benefits adviser, said getting the word out to veterans and their families about available benefits is challenging.
“They don’t really know what they’re entitled to,” he said.