Our nation has the greatest armed forces in the world, and this is entirely due to the men and women who put their lives on the line every day. They and their loved ones make an enormous sacrifice — sometimes the ultimate sacrifice — to keep the rest of us safe. To more closely understand what it means to be a veteran in NY-01, I gathered with 30 veterans and military family members in Setauket last week. They had served in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Germany. They are young, old, healthy, and ill. They all echoed a similar message: those who served our country are now being underserved by our government.
Sadly, when they return home, our veterans suffer disproportionately from mental health issues, substance abuse, unemployment and homelessness. And far too often, bureaucratic red-tape prevents them from receiving necessary and deserved care. This is unacceptable. Our government must spare no expense to address these challenges.
In particular, we are failing to adequately and respectfully serve female veterans. Twenty percent of active duty female soldiers are reportedly sexually assaulted while serving, contributing to higher rates of PTSD and suicide, among others. Not only must we reduce the number of assaults happening in our military, but we must do better in providing proper services for female veterans.
At the listening session, Navy veteran Cathie Doughtery told me there is no female OB/GYN available for her treatment at the women’s clinic at the Northport VA Hospital. She said that her calls to elected leaders have yielded no results. The Northport website lists one OB/GYN, Dr. Robert Kramer, but no females. They may be looking into the addition of a female gynecologist, but none presently are on staff.
Clearly there is so much that needs to be done, and with such a high veteran population in the district, this must be a priority for whomever represents Long Island in Congress. Lee Zeldin vacated his seat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the more lucrative position on the Committee on Financial Services. This move was good for soliciting campaign contributions from Wall Street, but not good for veterans in NY-01. If elected, I commit to continuing to host listening sessions with veterans, prioritizing staff for veterans’ care, and advocating for veterans over corporate interests. And I will look to serve on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, even though I am not a veteran myself.
One’s gender should not be a deterrent from entering the military, and the proportion of female troops and veterans continues to increase. If elected, I will address this by hiring both a female and a male veterans’ liaison. I will also advocate for appropriate healthcare options for women in Long Island’s VA hospital.
I did not serve our country on the front lines, and I cannot pretend I understand the difficulty and hardship that comes with service, both during active duty and after returning home. However, I have a deep patriotic heart, I am an avid listener and problem solver, and I promise to do all that I can to address the myriad challenges our veterans face.
Perry Gershon is the NY D-1 Democratic congressional candidate.