By Don Mance
It was a tremendous opportunity to be 19 years old and stationed in Europe in late 1989. Daily I watched the BBC as a young airman with awe and wonder as, one by one, the nations in Eastern Europe shook off the chains of communism and took their first steps toward democracy. I couldn’t help but feel then and now that I, and all the brave men and women serving in Western Europe with me and before me, had a small part in the incredible changes that were sweeping across the continent that year.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, I’m fighting for a change to an important New York State law that affects me and many of my fellow veterans.
Article 20 of New York State Retirement and Social Security Law allows certain honorably discharged veterans working in the public sector the opportunity to purchase up to three years of military service to credit their pensions. However, the law in its current form excludes all peacetime veterans and even some who served during designated periods of conflict from Desert Storm to the present day.
Legislation in both houses of the New York State Legislature would correct this grave injustice and recognize the service of all of New York’s honorably discharged veterans. The bill, A6974/S4714, is gaining momentum and has a fair amount of bipartisan support.
However, the cost of the legislation is causing apprehension and reluctance among many lawmakers.
The crux of the issue, though, is fairness. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo effectively advocated for marriage equality when asking the question, “What makes a same-sex couple’s union any less legitimate than an opposite-sex couple’s?” So, I ask this question: What makes the service of a soldier who served in Kuwait any more important than an airman’s in Europe, or for that matter, a soldier’s on the Korean peninsula near the demilitarized zone?
Military service is public service. The current law, with its ill-conceived caveats about where and when the service was performed, denigrates the service of those it does not include. It rewards some and punishes others for circumstances beyond each veteran’s control.
The question of cost to the New York State taxpayer is certainly a fair one. Most New Yorkers are rightly weary of placing at or near the top in property and other taxes in the nation. However, as we saw in this current budget year, when a program is deemed important enough, the money is found.
It is time for New York State to recognize and reward the service of all of its veterans working in the public sector. Please encourage your local Assembly member and senator to support and co-sponsor A6974/S4714. Ask Cuomo to extend his penchant for fairness to all of New York’s veterans.
Don Mance of Delmar is a veteran of the Desert Storm era.