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Erie County stands with veterans

The following is a guest column from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:

The Erie County Veterans Service Agency is your local resource for all information pertaining to veterans, and as the first agency of its kind created in New York, has been helping veterans and their families since 1926. That’s nearly a century of outreach and involvement with our servicemen and women, keeping them aware of the federal, state and local benefits they may be eligible for while remaining an active and visible participant in veterans’ activities around the county. This month, the Erie County VSA is taking a moment to extend holiday greetings to all our veterans and their families, with best wishes for health and happiness in the New Year.

The Agency became an official part of Erie County government on Jan. 1, 1945 following an increased demand for services in the waning months of World War II and since that time has provided services to thousands of veterans and their families. Today, Agency Director David Shenk and his staff work as advocates for our veterans by guiding them through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs claims system, helping veterans with everything from gathering information to tracking claims at every step of the way. As anyone who has ever worked with, or needed information from a federal agency may attest, there can be time-consuming paperwork delays that befall individuals who are unaccustomed to the system, so the Erie County Veterans Service Agency works on veterans’ behalf, free of charge, to cut the red tape and get results for our veterans. They are ready to help you and your loved ones if you are I need of such services.

Did you know that, in addition to helping veterans’ families access the normal benefits provided by law to survivors of deceased service members, the ECVSA is also the only agency charged with (and responsible for, at county expense) the burial of indigent veterans and next-of-kin of veterans? This is just another way that we support our veterans and their families, and if this end-of-life assistance should be necessary we will provide it in the compassionate, dignified, respectful way that these men and women deserve.

As an active and engaged participant in the local veterans’ community, the Agency maintains strong relationships with numerous veterans’ organizations and posts and works closely with the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY as well. Another way we help local veterans is through partnership with the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court, a hybrid drug and mental health court that serves veterans who are struggling with addiction or mental illness by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system into a specialized veterans’ court. The program, the sole one of its kind in the country, is designed by the Buffalo City Court to keep veterans who are non-violent offenders out of jail and demonstrates the community-wide dedication and support we offer to our veterans.

During this festive season we wish happy, warm and peaceful holidays to all county residents and especially to our veterans and their families. If you or a loved one needs of any of the services offered by the ECVSA, please contact them by calling 858-6363 or visiting http://www2.erie.gov/veterans/.

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