Governor Hochul: “This allows our veterans to get the care that they were denied…That era is over. And there's so much more we could be doing for our veterans. I also am concerned about the mental health of our veterans…Deployment after deployment, it has an effect on you. And we must let them know there's no stigma associated with getting mental health services. And that's what we're doing in New York State.”
Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tanya Bradsher, and Governor Pedro Pierluisi to urge veterans exposed to burn pits or other toxins to file for PACT Act benefits.
AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
¡Buenos días! So happy to be back here in Puerto Rico. I just arrived a short time ago, but there's no place I'd rather be than at the American Legion honoring those who allow us to sleep safely in our beds at night when they go off to foreign lands and are willing to shed blood for their fellow Americans.
I want to applaud all of you as we enter this great weekend, Veterans Day, but I've always said, “Veterans Day should not be one day.” Every single day we should honor those with the courage to stand up and say, “I will defend my country.” And for that, we are forever grateful. I also want to thank our host here today, the American Legion, all of our friends here, but also the host to this beautiful island and that is my great friend, our Governor Pierluisi, who also feels like he's the Co-Governor of New York, he's in New York a lot.
I feel like such an affinity here because we represent so many Puerto Ricans in the city and on the island here, so we have a mutual constituency in my opinion. So, thank you, we look forward to seeing you later this afternoon as well. Also, we have the VA secretary here as well, Tanya Bradsher. It's a big deal. Let's give her a huge round of applause and welcome her to Puerto Rico. Our Congressional Hispanic Chair Nanette Díaz Barragán all the way from Washington.
But also, I want to thank someone who I have such Incredible admiration for. When Kirsten Gillibrand sets her mind to something, no matter how long it takes, whether it's sexual assault in the military, a fight she took on for over a decade, she always gets the results she wants because she knows she's fighting for you. And that's what I love about her.
And yes, she's also a very good softball player. I played on that team and they put me way out in left field because I couldn't – they offered right and I said, “I'm going left.” That's a little politics in softball, even. But what a great champion she is not for the people of New York, but for the people of the entire United States. And for her to come here to make sure that our veterans here in Puerto Rico know the services that are available to them because of what she did in convincing President Biden – who's there for our veterans as well. President Biden knows more than anyone what it's like when your child goes off to fight and contracts a lethal illness. They leave healthy, perfectly fine, and something happens because of the exposure that they were not protected from.
So what he has done in the honor of Beau has also changed lives. So when you have Gillibrand and Biden teaming up together, there is no stopping them. Let's give them both a round of applause.
I'll make an observation. This is predominantly a bipartisan bill, but there were a few outliers. I don't know if I'll call them out here now, but we know who they are, the people who would not support this. And I'm going to remind people during next election time in the State of New York who was with our veterans and who was not. You'll hear their names when I get back to New York.
But this allows our veterans to get the care that they were denied. And a lot of people wouldn't have thought about them. They just fall into the cracks and they're on their own. And who's looking out for them? “I'm sorry you didn't qualify.” That era is over. And there's so much more we could be doing for our veterans.
I also am concerned about the mental health of our veterans, the long-term veterans from the earlier wars – particularly Vietnam. I had uncles serve there, and our Vietnam veterans never got the welcome home they deserve and the gratitude of a nation. So every chance I get, I shout out our Vietnam veterans, and thank you, thank you.
But even our more recently returning veterans, they've seen so much. Those who went to Iraq and Afghanistan, deployment after deployment, it has an effect on you. And we must let them know there's no stigma associated with getting mental health services. And that's what we're doing in New York State by having peer to peer services and opening up the doors to say, “We'll take care of you. We'll help you heal.” Because another veteran understands more than anyone what the experience has been like.
So we also made sure that we had increased funding for our local veterans agencies, dozens of laws to support veteran owned businesses in the State of New York. And I'm sure you have them here as well, but we need to support and give them the education opportunities as well when they come back home.
So thank you for your service, thank you for being here today, and thank you to Kirsten Gillibrand for having the tenacity to get this done. With that, I'm honored to introduce the Veteran Affairs Deputy Secretary, Tanya Bradsher. And with that, I apologize, I have to run.