All of us owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the heroic men and women who lost their lives while protecting our country as members of our nation’s armed forces.
Americans recently commemorated Memorial Day — a sobering occasion that reminds us that freedom is never free, and that in a perilous world, we sleep safely at night precisely because of those servicemen and women who are fighting for us.
After our collective pause to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, it behooves us to take the next step by renewing our commitment to taking care of veterans right here in Nassau County.
Some 67,000 of the 16.5 million veterans in the United States call Long Island home. And there’s no denying that while these heroes have upheld their end of the contract to protect and serve the nation, we haven’t adequately fulfilled our end to care for them when they come back home.
Across the country, fewer than 50 percent of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment. An estimated 250,000 veterans are unemployed and in need of work. And with 68,000 of them homeless, there are 5,000 veterans here in Nassau who are at risk of homelessness.
Those statistics should shock the consciences of every American and provide clear evidence that this moment requires immediate action. That’s why I have proposed the creation of a 21st-century Veterans’ Bill of Rights that would ensure that none of them are ever left behind in Nassau County.
Such a bill would reaffirm the fundamental rights for veterans that must be protected:
• The right to dignified housing.
• The right to gainful employment.
• The right to be protected from discrimination.
• The right to be supported in the community, in such organizations as VFWs and American Legions.
In addition, the Veterans’ Bill of Rights would formally commission a study to identify where resources are needed to best serve our veterans, and recommend additional investments ranging from new technology to advancements in health care, and more. Once completed, the study’s findings would be presented at a public hearing of the County Legislature’s Veterans Committee.
My office has already taken important steps toward fulfilling the tenets of the Veterans’ Bill of Rights. In January 2022, the Legislature unanimously passed the Hiring Our Heroes Act, a measure I sponsored that exempts veterans and active-duty service members from county civil service exam fees. Not only does removing a financial burden of up to $200 from eligible applicants incentivize their return to the civilian workforce, but it also recognizes how veterans’ leadership, military experience and ability to perform under pressure make them valuable candidates for public service.
This legislative measure builds on the Dignity for Our Heroes initiative, another legislative package that I sponsored and passed in 2019 that protects veterans from discrimination in housing and employment, and convened the Nassau Commission on Ending Veteran Homelessness.
While I take great pride in these earlier measures, they should be viewed as a foundation to build on. We must not cease in our efforts until every veteran in the county has access to the resources they need to meet their health care, housing and workforce needs. And it is imperative for all of us to approach this issue with compassion and care, so that we can continue chipping away at harmful stigmas that dissuade our heroes from seeking the assistance they need and deserve.
These men and women have always had our backs, and it is imperative for us to always have theirs. Please contact your legislator and ask them to support the Veterans’ Bill of Rights. And I ask you to never forget our fallen heroes, or our veteran heroes at home.
Joshua A. Lafazan represents the Nassau County Legislature’s 18th District.