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Benefits, resources for Cayuga County veterans explored at Auburn presentation

The Citizen - 1/16/2020

Jan. 15--1 of 3

Veterans 1

Jessica Strassle, director of the Cayuga County Veterans Service Agency, speaks about resources available to Cayuga County veterans, during a Wednesday Morning Roundtable discussion in Auburn.

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Kelly Rocheleau

Veterans 2

Tom Minicucci, a member of the Cayuga County Veterans Advisory Board, speaks at the Wednesday Morning Roundtable in Auburn.

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Kelly Rocheleau

Veterans 3

Jessica Strassle, director of the Cayuga County Veterans Service Agency, speaks about resources available to Cayuga County veterans, during a roundtable discussion in Auburn Wednesday.

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Kelly Rocheleau

AUBURN -- Jessica Strassle said she wasn't aware of most of the benefits available to veterans until she became involved in veterans services.

Strassle, the director of the Cayuga County Veterans Service Agency, an Air Force veteran and Air National Guard member, talked about what is available to veterans at the Wednesday Morning Roundtable, a monthly civic forum in Auburn. Tom Minicucci, a Cayuga County Veterans Advisory Board member and a managing partner of Health Central in Auburn, also spoke at the event.

The service agency collaborates with groups on the local, state and federal levels, Strassle said, and works to identify gaps in care and develop strategic plans to overcome the gaps. The services offered by the agency range from connecting people with services to helping veterans start their own businesses.

"Any veteran who comes to my office or their family that needs help with something, if I can't do it, I'm going to find out who can and I'm going to point them there," Strassle said.

Minicucci, who served in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Merchant Marines, spoke about the advisory board, which was approved by the Cayuga County Legislature in 2019. The board allows veterans to advocate for veterans and includes Strassle, retired Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould and Auburn Mayor Mike Quill.

"It's really an eye-opening thing to see the kinds of needs that these veterans have and the hard work that Jessica and others are putting in to meet these needs," Minicucci said.

At one point, Minicucci presented a $500 check from Health Central to the advisory board's veteran emergency relief fund.

Later, Strassle noted that access to care is a vital issue for veterans. She said many people think all veterans are eligible for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care, but that isn't the case. She also said there are different forms of Tricare, an insurance entity for military members and veterans. Being eligible for one form of Tricare does not make someone eligible for another, she added.

After the meeting, Strassle said that according to 2016 census data, there are over 5,000 identified veterans in the county, around 600 of whom are women. She noted the agency served around 700 veterans in 2019 they hadn't served the previous year. She said it is important for providers to understand how they can make sure they are "in-network with the correct level of Tricare."

"If they're in-network and being reimbursed in one level of Tricare and not another, they might be hindering the population that they're serving," she said after the meeting.

Strassle said she wanted to help educate the community on veterans' concerns and on how "we can integrate some of our services in our community to overcome some of those gaps."

"You can't fix what you don't know and be connected to what you don't know exists," she said. "Veterans aren't going to come into our office and be connected to something they don't know is out there."

Paul Hernandez, a retired lieutenant colonel with the New York Army National Guard, said after the meeting that he was aware of many of the services discussed during the event but was still glad it was held.

"The hardest thing is helping a veteran navigate through the system. I believe in the county mission," Hernandez said. "I just wanted to make sure that I'm aware of everything that's out there."

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

Kelly Rocheleau

Education Reporter

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