Rep. Zeldin Announces Legislation to Make National the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program

February 8, 2016
Press Release

Patchogue, NY – Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) today joined with members of the Dwyer family, veterans and local leaders at American Legion Post 269 in Patchogue to announce legislation that he will be introducing in Congress to expand the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program (“Dwyer Program”) to the national level.

In 2012, while serving in the NYS Senate, Congressman Zeldin created the Dwyer Program, a peer-to-peer support program for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

PFC Joseph Dwyer, from Mount Sinai, New York, served in Iraq and received nationwide recognition for a photograph that went viral—showing him cradling a wounded Iraqi boy, while his unit was fighting its way up to the capital city of Baghdad, which you can view here. Sadly, after returning home and struggling with PTSD, PFC Dwyer died in 2008 and left behind a young widow, Matina, and two year old daughter, Meaghan.

Created in his honor, the Dwyer Program was initially launched in the counties of Suffolk, Jefferson, Saratoga and Rensselaer, and has since expanded to over a dozen counties in New York State. Since the program started, it has helped over 1,500 veterans from NYS who are battling PTSD or TBI.

Congressman Zeldin's bill, which he is introducing in Congress this week, would take what has been accomplished in New York and expand it nationally so that we eventually have access to a peer-to-peer support group for every veteran across America.

Congressman Zeldin said, “This week, I will be introducing legislation in Congress that will expand the PFC Joseph Dwyer Veterans Peer Program on a national level, so that every veteran in the U.S. eventually has access to a peer-to-peer support group. I would like to especially thank all of the amazing veteran leaders in my home county of Suffolk for helping inspire and launch this important expansion. My bill would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make grants to state and local entities to carry out peer-to-peer mental health programs. With the VA reporting that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide, this national expansion is long overdue. I want to ensure all veterans across this great nation receive the proper treatment and care they deserve. My bill will bring much-needed support and assistance to thousands of veterans and their families across the United States. Passing this bill to support our veterans is of the highest priority for me.”

Marcelle Leis, CMSgt (Ret), USAF/ANG, Program Director, Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Program, said, “Dwyer Project is starting its 4th year of serving Veterans, service members, and their families with post-service transitional issues to include PTSD and TBI. The partnership with Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and the Association for Mental Health and Wellness highlights the immeasurable importance of relationships in the community. Models of community based peer groups are emerging as an adjunct to clinical treatment options, especially for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress. Leveraging the military cultural values of trust, respect, perseverance, and self-reliance provide an opportunity for healthy reintegration through peer interaction. Over 500 veterans have been served in peer group, while another 500 were reached through individual peer mentorship. Thousands have had the opportunity to learn about program initiatives through various community events.  Impact of the Dwyer Project has minimized hospitalizations, sustained families, secured gainful employment, prevented homelessness, promoted daily health and wellness, and educated the civilian community as to the needs of our veterans. The success Dwyer Project has measured in its first 3-years of program development has saved lives.  Our goal is to continue honoring those who’ve served by promoting a purposeful lifestyle as they transition into productive members of our community.”

New York State Assemblyman Dean Murray said, “I was proud to support NYS Senator Lee Zeldin when he started the "Joseph P. Dwyer Peer to Peer Mental Health Program" in New York State and I am just as proud to support US Congressman Lee Zeldin as he takes this extremely important program to the national level.  Lee has always put the well-being of our veterans in the forefront and expanding this program nationwide will ensure that veterans throughout the nation will be able to get the support they need.”

“No one understands the challenges our veterans face better than other veterans who have confronted these same problems first-hand,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. “This program, named after “Mt. Sinai resident Joseph Dwyer, offers a vital service to our returning veterans.  It connects them with support services as well as other veterans who understand the unique issues they are dealing with and can help them to successfully transition from military to civilian life.  Congressman Zeldin has been a champion for our veterans.  His vigilant work in the creation and expansion of this program has helped thousands of returning veterans, and undoubtedly saved countless lives.”

Michael Stoltz LCSW, Chief Executive Officer, Association for Mental Health and Wellness, said, “Peer workers have become increasingly critical to people’s efforts to live with or recover from the distress of mental and physical health and substance use challenges. With proven experience of the Dwyer Project in Suffolk County, Congressman Zeldin is “spot on” in proposing an expanded presence of trained Veteran peers to help those who struggle to connect with helping systems, too often because of the stigma that pervades the process of asking for and getting help.”

John J. Rago, Outreach Coordinator, Association for Mental Health and Wellness, said, “Congressman Zeldin’s proposed legislation to expand the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Program to the entire nation is the natural progression for this highly successful program that has helped so many of our returning Veterans who are struggling with the effects of PTSD in Suffolk County and the other counties in New York State where it is offered. I urge both houses of Congress to fast track this legislation and for the President to sign it as soon as possible so that Veterans throughout the country can benefit from this extremely important program. Thank you Congressman Zeldin for your efforts in bringing the Joseph P. Dwyer program that you started in Suffolk County to the rest of the nation.”

Rich Dellasso, SSVF Outreach Coordinator, Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc., said, “This program is pivotal in giving our veterans the opportunity, not just to connect with other veterans, who have been there and done that, but the opportunity to vent their frustrations in a healthy and safe environment”. 

Tom Archer, New Beginnings Community Center, said, “The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. Active military and Veterans of our armed services suffering neurological disorders from service to our country are owed every resource available. The Joseph P Dwyer program is a proven resource that should be expanded throughout the military.”

Joe Cognitore, Commander, VFW Post 6249, said, “As Legislative Chair for the VFW Department of New York, we have supported the Joseph Dwyer Peer to Peer Program by way of state legislation: A6114 and S2206 is specific legislation addressing this program. To have Joseph Dwyer Peer to Peer Program on a national level would significantly impact the veterans' community in a positive way. We need a program nationally now not later.”

Bob Smith, Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 190, and the former Director of Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, said, “I have been involved with veterans and their families for the past 17 years. I believe that recovery from mental illness is now a real possibility with the implementation of the Joseph Dwyer peer to peer veterans counseling program. Congressman Zeldin presenting legislation to implement this program nationwide will provide the template needed to assure that veterans with mental illness can now be treated with a proven and effective program to recovery.”

Robert F. Neville, Past National Vice Commander, American Legion, said, “Treatment of PTSD at the VA has been satisfactory, however the main path to correction of the problem and treating this tragic illness is recognition of the problem. The Joseph Dwyer program is aimed at recognition and treatment of this illness by peers; those veterans whom have gone through some of the same traumatic experiences. We thank Congressman Zeldin for bringing this problem before Congress and hope that funding will be provided.”

John Javis, Director, Operations Advanced Health Network, said, "We are very proud that Congressman Zeldin and Suffolk County first led New York, and now is leading the nation in providing veteran-to-veteran peer support. The delivery of peer support has been proven by research to promote well- being and resiliency.”

Ron Hurtado, Founder and Team Captain, Airborne Tri-Team, said, “Airborne Tri-Team supports Congressman Zeldin in our battle against PTSD. Never leave a falling Comrade.”

Issues: