The Mayor Should do More for New York’s Veterans

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The Mayor Should do More for New York’s Veterans

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to a crowd in New York City.  (PHOTO COURTESY of Kevin Case via Flickr)

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to a crowd in New York City. (PHOTO COURTESY of Kevin Case via Flickr)

Kevin Case

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to a crowd in New York City. (PHOTO COURTESY of Kevin Case via Flickr)

Kevin Case

Kevin Case

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to a crowd in New York City. (PHOTO COURTESY of Kevin Case via Flickr)

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By CATHERINE ATHERTON
Staff Writer
Published: April 29, 2015

In New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world, I was surprised to discover the minimal amount of support and aid given to veterans who have fought for our country. Despite the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s father was a veteran, the mayor has not expressed any leadership on veterans’ issues, and has yet to meet with his own city’s veteran leaders. With a minute budget for veterans’ affairs and a lack of leadership from the mayor, fellow New Yorkers who have fought for this country overseas are not getting the benefits and support they deserve. Due to this dissatisfaction with the city’s mayor, over 200,000 veterans from all five boroughs united at City Hall last week to ask de Blasio for help. They have served their country; now de Blasio must serve them.

The veterans that united at City Hall were members of the NYC Veterans Alliance, Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Legion, NY Metro Vets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and even members from the mayor’s own Veterans Advisory Board. These brave individuals stood to express their dissatisfaction with the mayor’s lack of veteran support and his failure to meet with any veterans groups at all. The mayor has met with the Russian band Pussy Riot, advocates for horse carriage drivers, and voters in Iowa and Nebraska–but the city’s own mayor cannot make the time to meet with American heroes.

Unfortunately for many veterans, the fight is not over once they return home. As veterans continue to face battles at home such as physiological disorders, unemployment and homelessness, our soldiers need the Mayor’s help now more than ever. Each day, 22 veterans die from suicide nationwide, and an unacceptable amount of former soldiers suffer from mental issues such as depression, PTSD, violent behavior and alcohol abuse. The New York Daily News reported that, as of February of this year, there were an exorbitant amount of unemployed veterans and over 1,000 homeless vets in New York City; these are all issues that are still outstanding, and have not been adequately addressed by the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs. As veterans continue to face battles at home, our soldiers need the mayor’s help now more than ever.

Besides the fact that the mayor has not met with veterans groups, the primary source of disappointment comes from the mayor’s lack of action. The New York Daily News quoted Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, as stating “You haven’t met with us once since you started office…but it’s not about meetings. It’s about action. And sadly, there has been none.”

The mayor has not only failed to act on the behalf of his city’s veterans, but he has also acted against several veterans’ aids efforts including his failure to back an expansion of the pension buy-back system: an effort to overturn the current law which states that US veterans who have served in Iraq after 9/11 are considered wartime veterans, but those who have served in Afghanistan are considered peacetime veterans and do not receive the same benefits. Under the current law, vets who served in Iraq and prior battles receive credit for three years towards their pensions if they enter civil service, but those who served in Afghanistan cannot. As the mayor met with Governor Cuomo on the eve of Veterans Day, he stated that the legislation to give pension credit for military service was “too expensive”; but out of the $75 billion New York City budget, supporting our soldiers should be a top priority. This opposition was a huge upset to veterans across the city on the day before they were supposed to be nationally recognized and praised.

Another huge disappointment in the city’s veteran support is the incredibly small amount of money allocated to veterans’ issues. With a total city budget of $75 billion, only $600,000 is given to Veterans Affairs and over half of this money is spent paying the staffers’ and the commissioners’ salaries. Additionally, over half of the funding for Veterans Affairs comes from the state government, which means that “New York City is actually spending only $300,000 tax dollars to connect nearly a quarter of a million veterans with benefits,” said Kristen Rouse, director of NYC Veterans Alliance. Rouse continued to express her dissatisfaction with the $300,000 budget by explaining that this budget means the city is only willing to spend “a little more than one dollar, per year, per veteran.” You would expect that the mayor would be a little more generous than one dollar per year for the over 250,000 veterans who have fought for their country.

American soldiers fight each day to protect the freedom and livelihood of Americans and New Yorkers. As these brave individuals travel overseas to serve their country and their city, it is incredibly disappointing that de Blasio does not reciprocate these efforts once these men and women return home. New York veterans have put in their time to make this country a better place, and now it is the mayor’s turn. The mayor must begin meeting with veterans’ groups, and expand the budget and staff within the Office of Veterans Affairs to give vets the aid and support they deserve. I hope the mayor will begin to start acting like a leader by fighting for the thousands of struggling New York veterans, as they have fought for all of us.