Assemblyman Mike Benedetto has answered the call of duty.
It was late last month when the Throggs Neck pol got a surprise phone call from his boss, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“He said, ‘there’s an opening for chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Are you interested?’” said Benedetto. “I said ‘yes, of course.’”
Benedetto has since settled into his new role, first convening a Feb. 5 sit-down with his 18-member panel.
“They all realize the importance of our veterans,” said Benedetto, speaking at his Throggs Neck office, where a book on D-Day rests on his bookshelf.
Sitting on the committee holds a special meaning for Benedetto, who hails from a family of veterans. He also hails from an assembly district that’s home to the most veteran’s posts than any other part of the borough. It’s made holidays like Memorial Day no day at the beach.
“I will literally spend the entire day going from event to event to event,” said Benedetto.
In chairing the committee, Benedetto will help shape veteran-related bills before they hit the Assembly floor, vetting their overall benefits to former servicemen and women. Albany already earmarks $17.5 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs for services such as counseling.
The Bronx is home to 50,000 veterans. And while some have managed to integrate back into normal life, others have been unable to cope, contributing to a rise in unemployment and homelessness.
Benedetto said he intends to address those issues by convening hearings that can “guide the legislature for new ideas for new bills.”
He plans to publicize all state entitlement benefits for vets by including a web link to the Department of Veterans Affairs home page on his own Assembly web page.
He’s already thrown his support behind the “Jobs for Heroes” bill by Senator Jeff Klein, giving tax credits to small businesses that hire vets discharged after 9/11.
His chairmanship is already viewed as advantageous for Benedetto’s 82nd Assembly District, boasting eight veteran posts from Co-op City to Silver Beach.
Among those glad to hear about Benedetto’s chairmanship is Pat Devine, a Bronx vet advocate who chairs the Rehabilitation committee at the Manhattan and Bronx Veterans Hospital.
“This is going to be a big plus knowing we have a friend in Albany,” he said, already spreading the word on Benedetto’s chairmanship.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383