2009-07-01 / Political Page

Vets Benefits Bill Sweetens July 4 Celebration

As July 4, Independence Day, America's most glorious holiday approaches this Saturday, the men and women who were on the front lines defending the nation in past wars will have an added reason for celebrating— some improved benefits contained in legislation that is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.

According to Congressmember Joseph Crowley, a strong supporter of the bill that passed the House last Wednesday, "The veteran's legislative package passed by the House will improve the compensation benefits for veterans during this difficult economic downturn and enhance the healthcare services provided to the growing number of women veterans.

"I was proud to support these key initiatives and look forward to working with veterans from across Queens and The Bronx to continue to improve the services our nation provides to the men and women of the armed forces who have sacrificed on our nation's behalf."

Included in the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009, Crowley said, is a much needed cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans' compensation benefits, an improvement in health services available for women veterans, an expansion of scholarship resources available to veterans and advanced funding for veterans' health care.

Under the COLA provision, as of December of this year, there would be increases in veterans' disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled children, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving children and spouses.

Healthcare services for the nation's 1.8 million women vets would include medical care for their newborn children, enhancement of VA sexual trauma programs, establishment of a pilot program for child care services and the addition of recently separated women veterans to advocacy committees.

Crowley (D- Queens/The Bronx) said there is also a provision in the far-ranging legislation to allow Congress to approve investments in VA medical care one year in advance to give the VA time to plan how to deliver the best care to an increasing number of vets with increasingly complex medical conditions.

The bill would also include on the VA's Internet Web site a list of organizations that provide scholarships to veterans and their survivors.

RUDY SEEKS CON CON: Frustrated by the 23-days of inaction by the warring Democratic and Republican state senate delegations, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has called for a state constitutional convention to try to fix that problem and others in the state government.

Among the latter he cited are campaign finance reform, the budget adoption process and possibly adopting term limits—two consecutive two-year terms.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call, Giuliani said: "What's happening up in the senate certainly is not the only reason for doing this, but it's probably the best example. This was always a broken state government. Now it's collapsed."

To hold a convention would require the state legislature's approval and that of the state's voters, who would then elect delegates who would have the power to propose changes. Giuliani said there was time to set a convention for 2010.

Giuliani has often been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor next year. Incumbent Governor David Paterson, who's expected to seek election to a full term, agreed with Giuliani on the proposed convention.

Among the proposed reforms Paterson would consider are a state spending cap "so that government will live within its means just like regular New Yorkers", campaign finance reform and "a government ethics commission that will restore the faith of the public in government.

But before a constitutional convention is held, reforms must be passed to ensure that the process will not be dominated by the same special interests that have caused the dysfunction and gridlock we are seeking to change, Giuliani said.

Paterson said he would be willing to work with Giuliani and others in a bipartisan way to bring real reform to the political system.

PADAVAN SAYS 'NO' TO CASINOS—

AGAIN: Commenting on assertions made by state lottery officials that they have the authority to set up casinos in New York state without legislation enabling them, state Senator Frank Padavan disagreed, saying the plan would be illegal.

Padavan (R- C, Bellerose), one of the most ardent anti-gambling officials in the state, even raised the possibility of bringing a lawsuit to block any such attempt if it was tried.

But Lottery Division spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said, "We think we have authority to move forward with this" in a Daily News story. She said the state constitution gives the Lottery Division the right to regulate games of chance, such as electronic table games. Under their plan, these types of games would be added to eight existing video slot machine parlors at race tracks in the state, and also at Aqueduct in Ozone Park, where a video slot parlor has been proposed.

Lottery officials said they estimated their plan could generate $250 million a year in new revenue.

The state constitution prohibits casinos outside Native American reservations, but the courts have ruled that video slot machines are lottery games, not games of skill.

MALONEY: 'SAVE GREEK DESK SERVICE': Congressmember Carolyn Maloney has called on a House Appropriations Subcommittee to restore funding to the Greek Desk Service at the Voice of America on the grounds that it is essential to an accurate and balanced message to audiences abroad.

A letter to the committee from Maloney (D- Queens/Manhattan) and Congressmember Gus M. Bilirakis, co-chairs of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, stated the Greek Desk is "an essential communications capability on which we rely to disseminate an accurate and balanced message to crucial audiences abroad.

Losing the service means much more than the loss of an important information link between Greece and America, Maloney said. She added, "It is a blow to our broader national security and public diplomacy efforts. Indeed, the elimination of the Greek Desk would be detrimental to the interests of the United States in the Eastern Mediterranean."

SEMINERIO BOWS OUT: Assemblymember Anthony Seminerio resigned last week from the Ozone Park/Richmond Hill legislative post he has held for three decades and pleaded guilty to abusing his official position in an illegal solicitation scheme which netted him about $500,000.

Seminerio, who started out as a correction officer and rose to president of the prison guards' union on his way to becoming an Assemblymember, now faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced on October 20.

Appearing in court last Thursday, Seminerio, 74, told federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, "I'm guilty, Your Honor. I knew that my conduct was illegal and wrong."

ACKERMAN ON MADOFF'S SENTENCE: Commenting on master stock swindler Bernie Madoff's 150-year sentence on Monday, Congressmember Gary Ackerman (D- Bayside/Long Island) vowed that he would continue to demand that the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) provide the maximum amount of insurance possible to all of Madoff's victims.

Ackerman is also sponsoring legislation to allow Madoff's investors to get refunds of the taxes they paid for the past 13 years on phantom profits. He also urged the IRS to allow victims to claim theft loss on their taxes.

ENDORSEMENTS: The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council AFL-CIO, with 12,000 members in Queens, has endorsed Jimmy Van Bramer, who's seeking the Democratic nomination for the 26th Council District seat (Long Island City/Sunnyside) presently held by Eric Gioia.

In Bayside/Whitestone, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, representing more than 23,000 members in the New York City area, has endorsed Jerry Iannece for the Democratic nomination in the 19th CD in Northeast Queens.

In Forest Hills/Rego Park, Heidi Harrison Chain was endorsed by Teamsters Local 237 (30,000 members). Chain is facing former Councilmember Karen Koslowitz and former Assemblymember Michael Cohen in the Democratic primary for the 29th district seat.

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