NYS funding for mental health proposed for local veterans

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Veterans agencies and mental health organizations could see an influx in funding to support peer-to-peer counseling for veterans in Cortland County.

The county’s Health and Human Services Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to accept up to $75,000 in funding from the New York State Office of Mental Health to cover the costs of a veterans counseling program that can help with post-traumatic stress symptoms. 

The PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer to Peer Support Program brings U.S. armed forces veterans, service members and their families together through collaborative services offered for veterans by veterans, according to the state program’s website. These services include social activities, as well as community service endeavors that can help ease the transition from military life to that of a civilian.

In Cortland County, this service would be offered by Clear Path for Veterans, an organization out of Chittenango. If approved, the program could help some of the 2,769 veterans in the county, per 2019 U.S. Census data. In 2018, the Census Bureau found that 1,007 veterans receive health care coverage through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The largest group of veterans in the county served during the Vietnam War (946), representing an aging population, according to Census data.

Tom Tedesco, Cortland County Veterans Office Director of Veterans Services said if approved, the grant would go through the County Mental Health Department.

Legislator Paul Heider (R-LD-16) expressed concerns about Clear Path being the organization  handling the state funding.

“I am uncomfortable with this. I want to know more about it, but I do not want to take up your time today,” Heider said to Tedesco.

Tedesco said the state program usually runs through an outside veterans organization.

“They come in and take a lot off the plate of the local veterans organizations,” he said. “I come in and help any veterans who need assistance with insurance claims once they are in the program. I will also help (Clear Path) find veterans who may need counseling.”

Sharon MacDougall, the county’s mental health department director of community services, said she has met with Tedesco for emergency planning regarding the program. MacDougall noted she feels comfortable with giving Clear Path financial responsibility due to the high degree of accountability reporting that has to be sent to state officials as part of the program.

“Our department oversees a lot of state grant funding that comes from the State Office of Mental Health,” MacDougall said. “Since Tedesco is a one-man team, he does not typically deal with this level of fiscal contracts, but Clear Path will do whatever (Tedesco) tells them to do.”

MacDougall said she hopes she can help Tedesco secure even more funding for veterans mental health services going forward.

“We are expecting to get this type of funding every year,” she said. “This is the first time this funding has come to the county.”

MacDougall said the funding is calculated based on algorithms that factor in county population and number of veterans in the area.

“Right now, in the New York state budget, there is a huge push to expand this funding for all counties,” she said.

The proposal to accept the funding will go to the Cortland County Finance and Administration Committee for a vote and then to the county legislature for final approval.