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Dale Cusack, commander of Carmel’s American Legion Post 270, said that there is too much red tape impeding veterans from receiving their benefits and not enough veterans service officers to provide assistance.

Brennan Mahoney is one such veterans service officer.

“I help the veterans and their families interface with the V.A. and get the benefits they have earned,” he said.

He divided the Department of Veterans Affairs into two sections: Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration. Mahoney’s job is to navigate the complexities of the VA.

One of the biggest obstacles he faces on a daily basis is the lengthy claims process for veterans who need medical care of a physical or psychological nature. He said that the New York regional office averages a turnaround of 178 days. The Fully Developed Claims (FDC) process is an expedited procedure that is supposed to reduce the time to 90 days, but he said that many claims are still not finished on time.

Cusack said that “18 months to two years to process a claim – if it’s accepted on the first go-around,” is commonplace.

Policymakers responded with understanding of the speakers’ concerns and some ideas for policy improvement.

Senator Greg Ball called for a simple check box to be put on all drivers’ licenses, designating veteran status. This would allow New York State to have a list of veterans, which would allow for more open communication.

Dr. Patrick Ford from the Danbury Vet Center believes that a big part of the problem lies in communication.

“Who knows what a vet center is?” he asked.

A few audience members raised their hands. “Not enough,” Ford continued, “and that’s a problem.”

Ford believes that there are numerous services available for veterans, but the problem lies in communication and in getting younger veterans to stick with it.

“They don’t engage,” he said. They “move in and out.” Senator Terry Gipson called on attendees to refresh the government by voting in new officials.

Senator Terry Gipson called on attendees to refresh the government by voting in new officials.

Senator Terry Gipson called on the public to elect new officials, regardless of party, come election time. He said that this is the way to really enact change, because officials who are too comfortable have no motivation to make the necessary changes toward job creation.

“They say all the right things,” he said. But they “don’t do a damn thing.”

Although the primary goal of the event was to have open dialogue with policymakers, speakers also took the time to talk more personally about issues close to veterans.

Art Hanley, deputy director at the Putnam County Office of Veterans Services, said that he has heard some skepticism over Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which he believes is largely based in semantics. In World War I it was called shell shock; in World War II it was battle fatigue, he said. These terms ultimately refer to the same thing.

Dr. Allen Beals, Putnam County commissioner of health, has no doubt over the existence of PTSD.

“When people suffer a traumatic event, they are changed,” he said.

Beals reported the presence of measurable metabolic and physiological changes that these patients exhibit.

Jessica Mazzucco hands out information, as well as pens, wristbands and other accessories at the Team RWB booth.

Jessica Mazzucco hands out information, as well as pens, wristbands and other accessories at the Team RWB booth.

There are different ways to go about treating PTSD. Jessica Mazzucco, from Team Red, White & Blue touted social and physical activities, such as hiking or yoga.

“Where is the community? Where is everyone?” she asked. Mazzucco recalled her feelings of loneliness when her father was serving in Iraq and called on the community to come together.

Joan A. Cleary, owner of Rocking Chair Farm, said that equine programs can be extremely useful as an alternative to traditional care.

“They don’t want to talk about what they experienced,” she said, but spending time with the horses can be smoothing for veterans.

The forum started at approximately 9:30 a.m. at the Putnam County Training and Operations (TOPS) building. Attendance for the event was very low relative to the number of open seats in the auditorium.

Karl Rohde, Director of Putnam Country Veteran Affairs, called on all audience members to invite five guests each to next year’s forum.

source: http://hudsonvalleyreporter.com/