Rep. Zeldin Recommends Expansion of PFC Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program as Part of President’s Executive Order | Congressman Lee Zeldin

Rep. Zeldin Recommends Expansion of PFC Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program as Part of President’s Executive Order

July 7, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON - Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) has recommended that President Donald Trump implement Congressman Zeldin’s legislation, the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R. 1749) as part of the President’s recent Executive Order #13861: President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). The President’s Executive Order creates an inter-agency Task Force to lead the development and implementation of a national, comprehensive roadmap to change how our nation treats mental health and understands suicide prevention.

Recommendation #7 of the President’s Executive Order states that the Task Force should “identify, evaluate, and promote community-based models that are effectively implementing evidenceinformed mental health and suicide prevention programs across the country. In doing so, they should leverage relationships with community-based efforts, non-profit organizations, faith-based communities, VSOs, and MSOs focused on saving the lives of Veterans.” 

The PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program is a peer-to-peer support program in New York that connects local veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The Dwyer Program was created by Rep. Zeldin during his time in the New York State Senate and has provided resources for veterans to meet and connect with other veterans in support of each other’s successful transition to post-service life. The program also incorporates a variety of therapeutic activities such as horse training and fishing that provide for common experiences, learning and personal growth. 

Since its inception, the Dwyer Program has expanded from four to twenty-three counties across New York State and has successfully assisted countless veterans in overcoming their challenges and returning to civilian life. 

The PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R. 1749), which Congressman Zeldin introduced to expand this successful program nationally, has garnered the support of 41 bipartisan cosponsors and is endorsed by the American Legion, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Blinded Veterans Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, American Ex-Prisoners of War, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Catholic War Veterans, and NYC Veterans Alliance.

A signed PDF of the letter is available here

Full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear President Trump,

I write today in support of my legislation, H.R. 1749, the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act, to be implemented as part of your recent Executive Order #13861: President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide or PREVENTS. I commend you on your leadership in the fight to eradicate the suicide rates of Veterans, Guardsmen, Active Duty Servicemembers, and Reservists. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 6,000 veterans have taken their own life every year since 2008, and according to a September 2019 report, 541 Active Duty Servicemembers and Reservists took their own life in 2018. Your Executive Order makes it clear that we, as a nation, need to do more to put an end to these suicide rates. 

Recommendation #7 of your Executive Order states that the Task Force should “identify, evaluate, and promote community-based models that are effectively implementing evidenceinformed mental health and suicide prevention programs across the country. In doing so, they should leverage relationships with community-based efforts, non-profit organizations, faith-based communities, VSOs, and MSOs focused on saving the lives of Veterans.” I believe that H.R. 1749, which has wide bipartisan support with 41 cosponsors, can help in our shared mission to eradicate the suicide rates of Veterans, Guardsmen, Active Duty Servicemembers, and Reservists. 

You may remember seeing the viral photograph of PFC Joseph P. Dwyer carrying an injured Iraqi child to safety in 2003. Sadly, when PFC Dwyer came back home to Long Island, he returned with the mental wounds of war, and, after years of struggling, he lost his battle with PTSD in 2008. Understanding that PFC Dwyer was just one of many local veterans struggling, I created the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program as a New York State Senator in 2012.

 H.R. 1749 would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to make grants to state and local entities to carry out the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Program on a national level. The Dwyer Program is a peer-to-peer support program for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This model provides a safe, confidential, and educational platform where all veterans are welcome to meet with other veterans in support of each other’s successful transition to post-service life and seeks to build vet-to-vet relationships that enhance positive change. This program also incorporates a variety of therapeutic activities such as horse training and fishing that provide for common experiences, learning and personal growth. Many veterans have said that talking with therapists and trying other treatments have helped with their PTSD and TBI, but it wasn’t until they connected with other veterans that they were able to feel understood and heard. 

Countless times I have had veterans tell me over the last several years that the Dwyer Program saved their life. We have an opportunity to ensure that veterans all across our country have this same ability to access the help they need to overcome their struggles and understand that they are not alone in this battle. 

My home county of Suffolk County, New York, was one of four test counties in New York, and since then, the program has successfully expanded to 23 counties across New York State, saving lives and assisting tens of thousands of New York veterans battling PTSD and TBI. The way the program is organized - providing grants to localities - has allowed each county to customize their individual program to their needs and the resources they have available while running an incredibly efficient and effective program. It has been remarkable just how far a small investment in funding can go with the Dwyer Program model. There is absolutely no doubt this program has been successful in New York State, and I believe the Dwyer Program can save countless more lives if it is implemented nationally under your administration. 

Thank you again for your leadership on this very important issue, and I look forward to working with you and the Task Force on creating long lasting solutions in the effort to eradicate the suicide rates of Veterans, Guardsmen, Active Duty Servicemembers, and Reservists.