On the eve of Election Day, several Queens lawmakers seeking re-election were off the campaign trail Monday and were instead delivering remarks at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Elmhurst Park. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz organized the annual observance ceremony to honor the men and women who sacrificed for the nation.
“We come here year after year to commemorate Veterans Day, to commemorate the fact that so many people fought for our country and that we never let anybody come home that doesn’t have the previous generation help them again,” Katz said, adding that soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War were spat on and yelled at, and it galvanized her to become an elected official and support veterans.
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato thanked all who served, and those currently serving in the Armed Forces.
“We can only have free elections because of the veterans who have fought for this country to give us this freedom,” she said. “As a member of the New York State Assembly Veterans Committee, it has been my honor to serve it. It is the one committee that I asked to be on, and folks always say, ‘Why do you want to be on the Veterans Committee?’ And my answer to that is, ‘Why not, and why don’t you?’”
It was a sentiment echoed by state Senator Joe Addabbo.
“Every day is Veterans Day. It’s not just one day of the year on the calendar; it is every day of the year, and the way we should say thank you as elected officials are to do whatever we can on every level of government to take care of the issues that face our veterans each and every day,” Addabbo said. “When we take care of the housing issues, the mental health issues, the physical health issues, employment, when we do that we can reduce the high suicide rate among veterans and that is really what we need to do.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng detailed two bills she is currently working on: the Veterans Administration Regional Office Accountability Act and the VSO Support Act, legislation that would save veterans halls, American Legions and VFW Posts that have been plagued by COVID-19 hardship.
“And lastly, you hear a lot about Congress members on both sides of the aisle talking about honoring our PACT Act,” Meng said, referring to the new law that expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances. “In the few years I’ve been in Congress, it’s Queens Veterans and the VSOs that have fought so hard to get that bill passed.”
On the city level, Councilwoman Joann Ariola said more outreach on mental health issues is imperative.
“I look forward to enhancing our veterans budget and making sure that you have exactly what you need because you made sure that we had exactly what we needed, which was freedom,” Ariola said.
Among the four Veterans Day Honorees was Iraq War Army veteran Carlos Cole, the Chaplain of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 92, who did three tours as a combat engineer and staff sergeant.
“I just want to say I’ve heard a lot of conversation out here today about second chances and I am one who’s had a second chance,” he said, his voice choked with emotions as he addressed the elected officials. “Thank you for your concern and service to our veterans community, because we sure need it.”
His message resonated with Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar.
“We honored the bravery, courage and sacrifice of those who served. There are no qualities I respect more,” Rajkumar said. “Today, I was proud to take the time to honor them and draw inspiration from their dedication to our country.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.