This week, we received another reminder that our congressman, Lee Zeldin, fails to protect our veterans and service people when tough decisions are required.

On May 29, President Trump vetoed a bill that would restore loan forgiveness to students defrauded by their educational institutions. The Obama administration made such forgiveness possible to protect veterans and others who were defrauded by for profit institutions such as Corinthian and ITT Tech – and the Trump administration subsequently made such relief more difficult to obtain. The House was outraged, and in January, 2020, passed legislation to override the Trump policy. Lee Zeldin voted in opposition, failing to stand up for the victims of fraudulently induced debt.

Here is why this is significant. Veterans are provided with needed funds for education as part of their G.I. benefits – clearly a good thing. Unfortunately, certain unscrupulous educational firms have made veterans their targets, looking to sucker them with fraudulent claims of future jobs, while the students take out loans to pay for their “learning.” Because many of these “schools” are unaccredited or otherwise ineligible for traditional education loans, their students turn instead to predatory, high cost loans. When the institutions either went out of business or failed to provide the quality education they promised, students were left without the benefit of the jobs prospects, skills or education they paid for, but still on the hook for the loans they took out, often at high interest rates. The House bill sought to demand the government not hold these defrauded students responsible for their obligations.

After the House passed the bill in January, dozens of veterans’ groups, including the American Legion, worked hard lobbying the Senate to pass the measure as well. Eventually 10 Republican Senators joined Senate Democrats to pass the bill and it went to Trump for signature. After long deliberation, Trump vetoed the bill on May 29th. Now we must hope the House and Senate override the veto, which would be the first override of a veto during the Trump presidency.

What is Lee Zeldin’s role? He had every opportunity to stand with veterans and support the bill initially – he did not. Six house Republicans and 10 Senate Republicans stood with veterans against the Trump administration, but Zeldin was on the wrong side of the veterans’ interests. This is not the only time that Zeldin has let down our veterans. When he was first sworn into Congress in 2015, he joined the Veterans Committee, but after only two years he traded the veterans committee for a more high-profile committee. Recently, Zeldin failed to stand up for National Guard members when Trump threatened to end their COVID-related service two days before their benefits accrued. Zeldin’s name was absent from a NY delegation letter urging the service term to be extended, while even such Trump stalwarts as Elise Stefanik signed the letter. Caving in to the pressure caused by the bipartisan letter that did not include Zeldin’s name or support, Trump conceded this week and extended the term, This is two times this year that important veterans’ issues have come up and Zeldin chose to let our veterans down.

The bottom line is that NY-1 has more veterans residing here than virtually any other congressional district in America. Whoever represents us in congress needs to stand up for veterans every single time. Simply put, Lee Zeldin is letting our veterans down. Remember that, the next time he uses smoke and mirrors to claim he stands with veterans. Look past his image, and at his actual record.

Perry Gershon is candidate for the Democratic nomination for the First Congressional District. He lives in East Hampton.

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