Albany County Executive Mike Breslin said he doesn’t want war veterans to receive the lukewarm reception he got after 12 years of service in the Army during the Vietnam era. Instead, he wants them to know he’s grateful for their service and make life a little easier for them.
“I spent 12 years in the Army, and when I came back, I didn’t get much of a welcome at all,” he said. “Today is different. There’s a small percentage less of people serving who are going overseas with families at home. We want to make sure there are enough resources and that they’re all taken care of.”
MaryAnn Jones, director of the Albany County Veterans Bureau, said the program, known as Return the Favor, is expected to roll out in mid-September. It will ask businesses to participate in a discount program for veterans. If veterans want access to those discounts, they will have to go to the bureau and fill out a DD 214 form, which is a record of discharge, and fill out a FAVOR form, which the county clerk will keep on file. Jones said this program is only meant for those who were honorably discharged.
Veterans will then receive a photo ID card and must present them to businesses that have a sticker in front of the store indicating they are part of the program. Designing those stickers will be Stacy Myron, owner of Tumbling Tykes and a resident of Colonie. She will also be participating in the program.
Jones said this program should be seen as a win-win for both the veterans and the companies. Not only will veterans be able to have access to more benefits, this will hopefully drive more people into those stores.
“I think, from a business standpoint, you are creating traffic within your store,” said Colonie Chamber of Commerce President Tom Nolte. “People are calling businesses and inquiring about the offer and are going in and taking advantage of the offer. They’re then hopefully gaining a new customer.”
Nolte said this is just a “very small way” of showing the county’s appreciation to its veterans. He said he has been getting a good response from many of the members within his organization, and he plans to highlight those businesses that are getting involved.
“They’re doing it for all the right reasons,” he said. “We want to let people know these businesses are out there, and we want to promote them.”
Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Kilcoyne said she thinks this program will benefit both veterans and businesses. She said this will help businesses find a new population that they might not be aware of.
“I think it’s a very simple discount for businesses to give, but it also benefits a group of people who have made significant sacrifices for each of us,” Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Kilcoyne said. “I’m just happy to be involved and happy to assist the county.”
There is a side-benefit for veterans other than just receiving discounts, according to Jones. Once a veteran makes a visit to the bureau, possibly for the first time, they may discover various other benefits that are available to them they may not have been aware of before.
“They’ll not only be able to receive discounts but this brings them into the office,” she said. “It allows us to reach more veterans in Albany County that we’re not aware of and get them benefits they’re entitled to.”
Jones said there are over a dozen businesses that have opted to participate in the program and a spreadsheet of participating ones will be available on the bureau’s website when the program is ready to launch.
“I think it’s a way to say thank you and recognize folks that aren’t recognized formally or informally,” she said. “Albany County has close to 20,000 veterans and it’s a nice way to say thank you for all you’ve done, especially for fighting on two fronts.”