- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Advocates for veterans are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation that allows non-wartime military veterans working for state or municipal government in New York to buy back pension credits for up to three years of service.

Veterans who served during certain designated times of war such as the Vietnam War are already entitled to that benefit, regardless of whether or not their service included deployment to the actual war zones.

Last year, four days before Veterans Day, Cuomo vetoed a similar measure, saying while it passed the Legislature overwhelmingly, it came without any funding.

But this year the slightly revamped measure, which passed the state Senate unanimously last month before it was approved by the Assembly 138-1, authorizes $31.5 million in spending to fund the program.

Jack Henson, Otsego County’s director of veterans affairs, said the veterans who did not serve during time of military conflict deserve the same public pension benefits provided to those whose service was during wartime.

“When anyone goes in the military, it’s just a luck of the draw,” said Henson, a Vietnam War combat veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. “You can go in a time of peace and a war or skirmish can break out. I don’t think anyone should be punished by not being able to buy back pension credits.”

Veterans who advocate for the bill say it will put New York in alignment with several other states and the federal government.

Federal workers who served in the military during times of peace are allowed to buy back their military years regardless of specific dates of service or where they served.

Cuomo said in his veto message last year that the pension sweetener Cuomo amounted to an unfunded mandate that “could run roughshod over systemic reforms carefully negotiated with the Legislature to avoid saddling local property taxpayers with additional, unmanageable burdens.”

But Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, a co-author of the legislation, said it amounts to “a small thank you to the men and women who volunteered to put their lives on the line to defend our country and our freedoms.”

“All veterans, regardless of where or when they served, deserve our gratitude and appreciation,” Seward said.

Advocates for the legislation say the current system of determining which veterans are eligible to buy back service credit is arbitrary. They point out that, now, veterans who fought in Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo, and Bosnia are excluded while those who served in Iraq, Panama and Lebanon are included

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