Veterans benefits

Military Sexual Assault Victim Applauds New Access to NYS Veterans Benefits

A Dutchess County resident who advocates reform of military sexual trauma policies says New York’s new veterans’ legislation is groundbreaking. His work and story helped inspire the legislation that Democrat Didi Barrett sponsored in the Assembly.

The bill that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed on Veterans Day is a national first. It extends eligibility for state benefits to veterans who received a “less than honorable discharge” due to unfair or discriminatory discharge policies.

“I’m thrilled to hear that this change has finally been implemented,” Mendez said. “For me personally, it has been a very long journey. I am a veteran and survivor of sexual trauma.

US Marine Corps veteran Janelle Mendez says she was a victim of another of the unfair or discriminatory dismissal policies – post-traumatic stress disorder.

“While going through this story and this struggle, in my case, I had no idea that I would be reporting sexual abuse and then all of a sudden I would be walking out homeless, not even knowing that I was going to be released. And then I go to apply for benefits, and I find out that I don’t qualify. So in my case, it took me two years to come out of homelessness, and it wasn’t until I got a job in finance and when I started working in a bank where I I even started making enough money to get myself out of homelessness, and it took two years to do that,” Mendez says. “And, at the same time, I was dealing with so much trauma because of what had happened. So I was going through PTSD, which I didn’t know I had at the time and I didn’t even know that you could get PTSD from sexual abuse, and I started getting addicted to drugs, so I had a really, really hard time when I came out, and I just felt like no one could help me, and I felt like I was being ignored by everyone I was going to ask for help from. So this legislation that’s being changed, for me, is a huge marker saying, as a community, we take a stand, and we say enough is enough, and we’re going to protect whoever comes next.”

New York law also extends eligibility for state benefits to veterans who received a “less than honorable” discharge for traumatic brain injury, or their sexual orientation or gender identity under “Do Not Ask.” , do not tell”. Assemblyman Didi Barrett represents the 106and District, which includes parts of Dutchess and Ulster counties.

“It makes people who received bad papers due to bad military policies eligible to reclaim their honor and benefits under New York State law,” Barrett said.

Mendez says she had to go through a long process with Veterans Affairs to prove that she suffered sexual violence and that her release was directly related to the violence. And while she was successful, Mendez says she intends to take advantage of New York’s new law — the Honor Restoration Act — to access additional benefits.

Barrett, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs, says there was some pushback when she began working on the bill, but not from the legislature.

“Initially, it required conversations with some of the old guard, some military organizations, some people, but I think everyone, no matter what battle and war you’ve fought in, knows people struggling. with PTSD,” Barrett says. “I think people are becoming more and more aware of military sexual trauma and its impact on women and men and how difficult it is if, for example, you are called into a meeting with someone who was your attacker and you have to deal with it. And people deal with things in different ways.

Again, Mendez, who is the founder of the Military Sexual Assault Movement.

“I think this is literally groundbreaking legislation that changes the whole course of the future and how we look at caring for veterans and living up to the commitments that we say as a nation for which we live,” Mendez said.

Democrat Brad Hoylman of the 27th District sponsored the bill in the Senate.