Veterans affairs front and center in Suozzi-DeBono race

Incumbent Congressman Thomas Suozzi (D – Long Island, Queens) and Dan DeBono (R), a former Navy SEAL running under the Republican banner, have been engaged in a bitter battle over the state of veterans in their campaign for New York’s 3rd Congressional District Seat (consisting of the majority of the north shore of Long Island and a small portion of Queens), with DeBono claiming Suozzi is using veteran issues as political ploy to improve voter turnout.

“You have been nowhere on veterans for the past two years until it came election time and you found you were running against a veteran,” DeBono said in an October debate hosted by News 12 Long Island as part of the “Island Vote 2018” debate series. “These are my colleagues,” he added. “These are my men. I know what they are going through. They need someone who genuinely cares about them.”

Suozzi created a Veterans Advisory Committee last February to help veterans transition from military to civilian life. Suozzi has also worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Northport VA Medical Center in recent months to raise millions of dollars to improve infrastructure. Last month, Suozzi attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Glen Cove for one of the new mobile medical units the Northport VA is using to expand patient care.

Suozzi’s actions have convinced Ralph Esposito, director of Nassau County’s Veteran Advisory Agency and chairman of the  Elmont Board of Fire Commissioners, , who disagrees with DeBono’s assertions.

“Tom Suozzi is the only one who went out and fought for us. He used to be my worst enemy, him and I always battled” Esposito said, alluding to disagreements Suozzi and Esposito had regarding the fire service. “but you know what, I respect the man.”

“I haven’t met a person who thinks we are taking good enough care of our veterans,” said Michael Dawidziak, a pollster and longtime political strategist based on Long Island. Dawidziak believes that in the end, the importance of veterans affairs will ultimately bring the parties together. “That is an issue where I’m sure they are going to find common ground.”