John Liu said last Friday that if the state truly wants to make veterans’ issues a priority, it’s time to show it.
The former comptroller, who is challenging state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in the Sept. 9 primary in the 11th Senate District, was joined by about two dozen veterans whose service ranged from World War II to Iraq as he outlined a multifaceted plan aimed at improving veterans’ services at the Korean War Memorial in Kissena Park.
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to our veterans for safeguarding our nation and the American ideals of freedom and democracy,” Liu said. “We must ensure that they have access to real services when they return home.”
Unfortunately, he said, many veterans are forced to deal with rolls of red tape just to access the services that are available.
Liu’s campaign said the state has nearly 900,000 veterans, with 72 percent having served during periods of combat.
Liu’s proposals include working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to establish a veterans’ MetroCard, based on the individual’s time of service and featuring fare reductions similar to ones now offered to students and senior citizens.
Under jobs and business opportunities, Liu would establish a dedicated line item in the state budget to pay for veterans’ employment services.
There also would be a new database listing the skills that veterans have gained in the military that might make them attractive to civilian employers.
One example cited would be helping vets who have medical experience in the armed forces get fast-tracked if they seek certification for positions such as emergency medical technicians or registered nurses.
Those who retired from the service would be eligible to set up businesses in tax-free zones, and get access to low-interest start-up loans and lines of credit.
Liu’s proposal also would help veterans, particularly those working in the public sector, put some of their service time toward their pensions.
Liu also wants the state’s Division of Veterans’ Affairs to develop a veterans center in Queens, which would be a one-stop-shopping destination for benefits assistance, health, education and social services.
Spending on housing and health services also would be increased to reflect what Liu said is a growing veteran population.
That final point, Liu said, is what he feels requires an overhaul of the state’s response.
Liu said he has not yet identified where he would get the money for the programs.
“But that’s what the Senate does,” he said. “It prepares the state budget, and does it according to priorities. And right now the state’s spending on veterans hasn’t kept up with the cost of inflation, much less the growing number of veterans.”
Should Liu defeat Avella, he could have a strong ally in state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). Addabbo is a long-standing champion on veterans’ issues, and Liu said they have a good working relationship.
“Both when Joe was a councilman and as a state senator,” Liu said. “And I’m proud to say he was one of my earliest supporters.”