The Suffolk Legislature has approved legislation that will provide combat theatre and combat zone veterans employed by the County an additional five extra days of paid leave per calendar year to address service related health concerns. The bill sponsored by Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn and Legislator Susan A. Berland enables the County to opt-in to existing New York State Military Law that provides this benefit to the State’s public employees and permits local governments to authorize similar provisions to their employees.
Eligibility for the additional benefit will be based upon a copy of the employee’s DD214, certificate of release or discharge from active duty, or other applicable department of defense documentation and only applies to injuries sustained through tours of duty and deployments occurring during employee’s tenure with the County. “Exempt” class employees, which includes appointed and elected officials, are not entitled to this benefit.
“Since the first days of the American Revolution, through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Suffolk County residents have had a long and proud tradition of offering themselves to the defense and security of our nation,” said Deputy Presiding Officer Hahn. “However, the health sacrifices made by our neighbors called upon to preserve our freedoms should not, must not and will, soon, not come at a financial cost to them as a result of work time lost caring for service related injuries. ”
Hahn learned of the provision in state law from Jay Veronko, Commander of Veterans of Foreign War Post 3054 in East Setauket. According to Veronko, ““As commander of VFW Post 3054 in East Setauket and a staunch supporter of Veterans rights, I am glad to hear that Suffolk County has by local law adopted the provision of the New York State military law that provides up to five days of medical leave for combat veterans. With the military active duty and reserve members being utilized for global conflicts in numbers not seen since World War II, it is encouraging to see continued legislative support for those who volunteer and sacrifice their personal freedom and lives to fight in our nation’s conflicts. Long after the deployments and battles are forgotten by the public, the veteran certainly remembers the wounds or psychological trauma they experienced. This legislation provides a measure of relief to Suffolk county veteran employees to seek treatment for conditions caused in combat.”
“Suffolk County has an obligation to best serve those County employees who so valiantly serve our nation,” said Legislator Susan A. Berland, Chairwoman of the Veterans & Consumer Affairs Committee. “Thanks to recent amendments to state law, the County is empowered to provide this benefit to our service members so they can attend to health concerns that arise from their service in the military. This is simply the right thing to do and I would like to thank Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn for her leadership on this resolution.”
The policy’s expansion to Suffolk County’s work force is likely to have a pronounced impact locally as the County’s Veterans Service Agency reports Suffolk has the largest Veteran population in the State of New York and has among the greatest number of Veterans of any County in the United States. In addition, a 2015 analysis published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, found nearly three-quarters of veterans in New York State had served during wartime.
The legislation still needs to be signed by County Executive Steve Bellone before the benefit change can be implemented in January 2021. Fittingly, that signature is expected to come in early July, around Independence Day.