Thursday, April 16, 2015

NYC Vets Unite at City Hall to Demand Action from Mayor de Blasio

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following today:

YC Vets Unite at City Hall to Demand Action from Mayor de Blasio
81% of NYC post-9/11 vets surveyed say the mayor is failing veterans

NEW YORK (April 16, 2015) – At 3:00 P.M. today, members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will stand with fellow veterans and the city’s top veteran leaders from across multiple organizations and generations to urge Mayor de Blasio to show real support for New York City veterans. With 22 veterans dying from suicide every day nationally and the VA still reeling after an epic crisis, the city’s veteran leaders will call on the mayor to stand up and show his dedication to our returning heroes.

At a unity event on the steps of City Hall, the veterans groups will note that during the mayor’s 15 months in office, the administration has shown no real results, failed to meet with them a single time, failed to increase the budget for veterans, and failed to even put forward a clear plan to meet the needs of the city’s 230,000 veterans.

Combat veteran leaders scheduled to attend are made up of current and former members of the mayor’s own Veterans Advisory Board and include Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA CEO and Founder, Kristen Rouse, leader of the NYC Veterans Alliance, Lee Covino, the Borough Hall veterans and military affairs adviser, Terry Holliday, NYC Veterans Commissioner for the first year of the de Blasio Administration, Joe Bello, NY Metro Vets, Tireak Tulluck, IAVA Leadership Fellow, and members from Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, American Legion and others.

“The veterans of New York are strong civic and community leaders. They served at Normandy, in Vietnam, at Ground Zero and in Baghdad. They are true heroes and our city’s very best. Many of them are joining us on the steps of City Hall today. Yet, these voices have been entirely ignored by our mayor,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “We’ve been patient. But enough is enough. It’s been 15 months since the mayor took office and our veterans have seen absolutely nothing to show that he cares about our community and our families. He addressed horse-carriages on ‘day one,’ but veterans have yet to get so much as a single meeting. He seems to have time for everyone in the city except us. The mayor must respond today and show us that he cares with an actionable plan and real resources. Talk is cheap and we need results. It’s time for the greatest city in the world to get serious about supporting the greatest warriors in the world. IAVA presented clear recommendations to the mayor’s representatives more than six months ago on urgent issues ranging from suicide to unemployment. And we are still awaiting a response or even a meeting. One of those recommendations is to create a new Department of Veterans Affairs in the city, which would be a huge step forward in ensuring that our veterans are properly supported. In a city budget of over $60 billion, only a pathetic $600,000 is dedicated to veterans. But the mayor has failed to address this urgent call for resources. Instead, he’s opposed increases to our pensions and ignored requests to meet from his own Veterans Advisory Board. As a community, we want to work together with the mayor and city council to make New York the best city in the country for veterans. But we’ve waited long enough. The time is now. With Memorial Day just over a month away, the mayor must meet with us and deliver real help.”

IAVA, which represents more than 10,000 members from the New York City-area, provided the administration recommendations in October 2014. Those recommendations can be found here. IAVA has also testified three times before the city council. The October 2014 testimony by IAVA’s Jason Hansman can be found here.

The veterans leaders also urged the city council and Speaker Mark-Viverito to immediately pass critical legislation introduced by Councilman Eric Ulrich, Chair of the Committee on Veterans, and created in consultation with IAVA, which would create a Department of Veterans Affairs for New York City. This legislation has so far been opposed by the de Blasio Administration.

From taking nearly nine months to appoint a Veterans Affairs commissioner to advocating for a veto of a veteran pension bill at the state level, the mayor has shown a consistent lack of commitment on veterans issues. In the case of the pension bill, the mayor directly advocated against veterans interests. He also fought against the expansion of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs (MOVA), despite city council efforts to expand its budget and create a new department. With an absurdly small budget and no real power, MOVA is ridiculously ill equipped to handle the current and rapidly growing needs of the veterans community.

IAVA also released the results of its recent poll of NYC members on the mayor’s handling of veterans issues:

- Only four percent of veterans surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the mayor was improving the lives of veterans and servicemembers.
- Only five percent agreed or strongly agreed that the mayor is listening to veterans and servicemembers.

Leading veterans and veterans organizations stood with IAVA in calling for action from the major. A sample of their statements is below:

“The service of our NYC veterans embraces major conflicts in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places that don’t flash on the everyday radar of most Americans. While the satisfaction of service to the United States is reward alone, many veterans need assistance with housing, education, medical benefits and availability of treatment beyond those provided by the Veterans’ Administration. There must be a clear and consistent veterans policy developed in dialogue and partnership with veteran organizations that have been in the service mode for decades. As a concerned veteran, I don’t see that effort coming from city hall,” said Terrance Holliday, former Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for NYC.

“The city council has stepped up to hold hearings and take initial steps toward making city government more responsive toward veterans. Mayor de Blasio needs to follow suit by showing that he cares enough to understand the needs of those of us who have served our country, especially those who are still struggling to find their way home and contribute as citizens of this great city. His record thus far shows only tone-deaf disregard. There is much to be done at the city government level to serve veterans. For all the federal and state programs for veterans, the rubber meets the road here at the city level where veterans live, work, and interact on a daily basis with city agencies and services. Veterans issues shouldn’t be partisan or unfavorable to any mayoral administration, and we realize that the administration of a city as large, complex, and amazing as NYC is a formidable task. Yet the delays, inaction, under-resourcing, and blatant exclusion of veterans under Mayor de Blasio’s administration has been exceedingly disappointing. We simply must show up and speak out on this to show NYC government that veterans matter,” said Kristen Rouse, Director, NYC Veterans Alliance.

“If national security remains a top priority, then so must our troops whom willingly serve beneath the flag. And if our elected officials are willing to send young men and women into harm’s ways, then they must be able to take care of them when they come home,” said Ryan Graham, Queens VFW Commander.

“The NYC Officers Club stands united with our fellow veterans organizations in NYC in encouraging the mayor and the rest of the city to continue to make veterans issues and initiatives a major priority and support those who have served and those who continue to serve,” said Joel Knippel, President, NYC Military Officers Club.

“During his 2013 campaign, Mayor de Blasio stated: ‘Veterans issues are personal to me – and they will be an important part of my administration.’ However, 16 months in, his message towards veterans and family members has been long on thanks but short on substance. Besides not engaging with or reaching out to the community, veterans have witnessed a number of policies and decisions from his administration that are both perplexing and frustrating. Mayor de Blasio has often talked about his father serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, losing a leg in Okinawa and the struggles he faced when he returned home. This gives the Mayor a unique insight into the difficulties veterans face on an everyday basis. So it’s extremely disappointing that with the United States still at war, with veterans still returning home, as well as those already here, and with many coming to New York City for economic opportunities, that in the ‘tale of two cities’ Mayor de Blasio appears to be leaving us behind. We believe he must and can do better,” said Joe Bello Founder, NY MetroVets.

Note to media: Email or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA has repeatedly received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.