The applause of local hotel managers and travel officials gathered Monday in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center said it all Monday, as Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins announced reinstatement of the Buffalo Golden Age Games for veterans, abruptly canceled last month.
Following the lawmakers’ intense lobbying, the Department of Veterans Affairs has reversed its decision to cancel the games’ 27th annual edition. That means more than 1,000 veterans 55 and older will descend on Buffalo, after all, from May 30 to June 4, resulting in bookings for about 5,000 hotel rooms and an approximate $2.2 million boost to the local economy.
“Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of this community,” said Visit Buffalo Niagara President Dottie Gallagher-Cohen.
Indeed, Schumer and Higgins were vocal in their criticism of the VA’s decision to cancel the games, especially after local hotels and athletic venues placed the affair on their schedules and veterans from across the country made plans to compete in Buffalo. Schumer said Monday he believed the VA was anticipating the need for budget constraints and targeted the games without investigating the overall effects.
“It seems it happened in haste,” he said.
The situation changed, he said, after he personally spoke with VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
“We explained the magnitude of how bad this was and how unnecessary this was,” Schumer said. “I don’t think this had bubbled up to the highest levels.”
The rest of Western New York’s House delegation also joined the effort to reverse a VA decision that Schumer called “devastating news.”
“We were all stunned when they said they would be scrapped,” he said.
But the senator noted the decision’s reversal means the event will now allow veterans to compete in some of the area’s top athletic venues, including aging veterans of Vietnam who may have not been appreciated as much as they should have at the end of that war.
“For them to now gather and compete and share stories from around the country is a great thing,” Schumer said.
“Above all, it means our brave veterans that have trained so extensively for these games will not have the opportunity ripped away from them,” he added.
Higgins said that he and Schumer approached the situation determined not to accept “no” for an answer.
“It’s good that Buffalo stood up for itself,” he said.
He and Schumer then posed holding a replica “bronze” medal they said they would award to the VA for reversing its decision.
“It’s not quite gold,” Schumer said. “But to admit to being wrong and changing your mind is a very good and fine thing. And now we have the games.”
Events are scheduled for several locations across Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Western New York, including the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, Erie Community College, Audubon Golf Course and the Made in America Store.
Schumer addressed other matters before marching in Monday’s annual Dyngus Day Parade in Cheektowaga. He also emphasized the role he will play as chairman of the Senate Immigration Committee in bills that will change tourism policies for Polish citizens to make it easier for them to visit the United States.
He said he will make a “very strong effort” to make Poland part of the federal “visa waiver program” available to tourists from most other European countries.
“We should make things as easy as possible,” he said, adding that he believes the additional tourism to concentrations of Polish-Americans in places like Buffalo would result in 1,500 new jobs and $181 million in new spending.
Schumer emphasized that the reform on behalf of Polish businesses and tourists is long overdue, as Poland has “stood shoulder to shoulder with the U.S.” over the past two decades, including sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The senator said he suspected visa requirements for Poland remained as a remnant of the Cold War.
“And it’s long over,” he said.