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We can do more for our U.S. military veterans in Erie County

Editor:
Over 70,000 Erie County residents stand out for one reason: They sacrificed to serve our country in the United States military.

For this, we pledge support and services, when they return home. However, our veterans often go unnoticed, under-served and forgotten. The ugly truth is that the promises we make to veterans for their sacrifices are often broken.

As a veteran and son of two generations of veterans, I’ve witnessed the profound abilities and leadership qualities of our service men and women. Their acumen and experience – forged and focused by true toil and application – is a resource of immeasurable potential.

Unfortunately, their potential is often underutilized, when they return home. Our failure to avail ourselves of their strengths and skills is a disservice to our community.

Worse, far too many are left wanting for basic VA health benefits, employment services and educational opportunities. More can be done to support the wellbeing of these future managers, teachers, engineers and civic leaders.

Having trained as a U.S. Air Force comptroller and U.S. state department senior budget analyst, I’ve learned comprehensive finance and budgeting skills and the value of informed decision making and concise action.

Applying this experience to support our veterans at home is a focus of my campaign for Erie County Legislature.

Within 100 days of taking office, I would call for two actions with a direct positive effect for veterans. The first action would be to create an effective veterans affair committee in the Erie County Legislature. This committee would be a stand-alone committee that works closely in strategic partnership with the director of the Erie County Veterans Service Agency, in order to attract resources for veterans and promote the mission of the agency.

The second action would be to waive the Erie Community College application fee for veterans. Fees can be a barrier for some veterans with little or no financial support, who often wait many months for the benefits of the GI Bill to materialize.

By waiving the fee, we can get more of our veterans engaged in developing the professional foundations they built, during their service. I would also work to encourage other schools in the region to adopt a similar policy.

Millions of dollars in federal and state grants slated for veterans’ services that could be coming to Erie County are going elsewhere. Erie County government should assist in creating economic opportunities for veterans in the private and public sector, open doors in higher education institutions and ensuring proper medical needs are met for all veterans.

Our veterans deserve our support and we owe it to ourselves to bring them into the fold of our community and economy.

Mike Schraft
Candidate for 9th District Erie County Legislature
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