State Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland) brought together a group of veterans and business leaders Tuesday morning in Pearl River for a roundtable discussion for the “Getting Our Veterans Back to Work" program.
The topics covered at the roughly two-hour discussion ranged from ways to gain employment for veterans to helping veterans who might suffer from mental health issues and providing aid for families of veterans.
“Today was a way of saying, ‘Let’s get government, veterans and business together at the table and really try to help veterans and help the economy,’” Carlucci said. “It was a way to talk about issues and possible solutions, things we can either put into legislation, or things we can just talk with various organizations in the community about implementing.”
The roundtable included Carlucci, Women Veterans Association of the Hudson Valley President and CEO Angela Vasser Cooper, Council of Industry Executive Vice President Harold King, Rockland Economic Development Corp. President & CEO Michael DiTullo, Accelerated Advertising President Al Garlick and Bill Mahan, 2012 New York State Senate Veteran Hall of Fame inductee and veterans community leader. They met at the Rockland Economic Development offices in Blue Hill Plaza.
Carlucci said that in New York, unemployment amongst veterans is nearly double the the rate for non-veterans. When discussing how to possibly help returning veterans find employment, Carlucci said there’s legislation in the state senate that will give businesses up to $10,000 in tax credit for hiring a veteran. He added the legislation might go to the floor Wednesday.
Garlick said he thinks hiring veterans can have other benefits besides any sort of tax credit that might pass down from the state. He said he’s seen a lot of new or younger employees do things like show up late to work and not be self-reliant, instead needing to be asked multiples times to do something. Others in the group mentioned seeing younger job seekers show up underdressed and unprepared to job interviews. Garlick said military training teaches people to be prompt and prepared, which could make veterans attractive hires.
The group also talked about mental health issues for returning soldiers. Cooper, who is also a social worker and conducts assessments of returning veterans, said many veterans feel shame in suffering from mental issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and don’t want to talk about it for fear of others finding out.
“There’s a lot of shame. They don’t want the community to know if they have PTSD,” Cooper said. “Then they do things like self-medicating or drinking.”
Cooper said they don’t want people to know for a variety of reasons, including their concern that it could hinder their chances at finding employment. However, Cooper added, PTSD can affect people on the job if they work around things like loud noises, and so it would most likely be beneficial for the veterans if their employers were made aware of any such issues. Mahan added a lot of veterans might be too proud to seek help for those kinds of issues and there is a stigma attached to them, although less of one now than in the past.
Garlick proposed a program in which veterans who had PTSD and worked past it speak with returning veterans who are suffering from it and try to help them work through it as well.
Carlucci said there is also legislation proposed that deals with mental health for veterans, and trying to get agencies to team up to assess and take care of veterans with mental health issues.
“We’ve seen it as a problem. We’ve seen the rate of suicide go up, we’ve seen a lot of the issues when we talk employment, family problems because of the issues relating to mental health problems,” Carlucci said. “And that leads to the chemical dependency and self medication. It’s something we need to take serious.”
Perhaps one of the most pressing issues relating to not just mental health, but all of the subjects covered Tuesday morning is actually reaching the veterans.
“When we’re talking about targeting veterans, the biggest problem that we’re seeing in terms of getting the right information and getting that information to the right people, I think that’s really where we need to focus on, and then try to merge some of these programs together and see how we can make sure they’re taking advantage of them,” Carlucci said.
An undercurrent of everything discussed Tuesday was that veterans might not know of all the options they have to get help, or they just might not want to reach out and ask for help themselves.
“There is help out there, you just need to go there,” Mahan said. “They’re not going to just pull you in.”
“When we’re talking about targeting veterans, the biggest problem that we’re seeing in terms of getting the right information and getting that information to the right people," Carlucci said. "I think that’s really where we need to focus on, and then try to merge some of these programs together and see how we can make sure they’re taking advantage of them."
One possible idea proposed at Tuesday’s roundtable is a veterans fair with different agencies that help veterans all having booths to show what they offer.
“It’s really about linking that information and trying to be as efficient as possible, and make sure government is meeting the needs of the 21st Century because we’ve seen drastic changes in what’s happening, particularly with the veterans that are coming back,” Carlucci said.