Update on Veterans Equality Act: Action Still Needed

Update on Veterans Equality Act: Action Still Needed

Thanks to your encouragement of NY State Assembly members, the Veterans Equality Act passed the Assembly with only one dissenting vote, and will head to Governor Cuomo for him to sign. Although the bill passed unanimously in the NY State Senate and nearly unanimously in the Assembly--we could still see a repeat of what happened last fall when Mayor de Blasio lobbied against this earned benefit for veterans and the Governor vetoed it.

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Photo: NY State Assembly

Despite Mayor de Blasio's announcement in his much-touted Fleet Week press conference to drum up support of veterans before marching in a Memorial Day parade, saying that he supports the basic fairness of updating NY State's pension eligibility to include other veterans--he nevertheless issued a Memorandum in Opposition to the Veterans Equality Act on June 19 when he thought none of us were watching.

View his Memorandum in Opposition here: A8174A - de Blasio Memo in Opposition

The administration keeps telling us the Mayor never made a reversal--he just forgot to tell us in that closed press event that he was only for a stripped-down version of the bill that still excludes too many veterans. So much for fairness. He remains in opposition to the Veterans Equality Act that was passed by all but one of our elected representatives in the NY State Legislature. And because of his opposition, Governor Cuomo may again veto it. This would be a profound injustice to the many pension-eligible veterans employed by the city and state.

We have to make sure the Veterans Equality Act is signed into law, despite our mayor's flawed and wrong opposition to it:

  1. Let Mayor de Blasio know that you disapprove of his position on the Veterans Equality Act. Send him an electronic message HERE. Tweet at him at @NYCMayorsOffice or @BilldeBlasio. Or, voice your concern by calling 311.
  2. Let Governor Cuomo know that Mayor de Blasio is wrong and that we support the Veterans Equality Act. Send him and electronic message HERE.
  3. Spread the word to fellow veterans, friends, family, and other members of our community. Together we can make a difference.

For background on this bill, below is a section from the newly released Report on the 2015 Survey of NYC Veterans Policy Priorities:

Expanding Veteran Eligibility for Pension Buyback

Current law permitting honorably discharged veterans employed by NY State and NYC to purchase or “buy back” up to three years of credit toward their pension at a reduced rate presently excludes veterans who served during the post-1975 Cold War era, and in Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Legislation to update eligibility requirements is pending in the NY State legislature as of the release of this report. A total of 69.72% of respondents indicated that they view this as either essential or very important.

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November 2014 Veto. Last year, the NY State Assembly and Senate passed legislation that would extend veteran eligibility for purchasing up to three years of pension credit at a reduced cost. The intent of this legislation was to update eligibility requirements for combat veterans beyond the eras and geographic localities of existing law, as well as extending it to some non-combat veterans in parallel with existing eligibility for veterans who served during the Vietnam era but not in direct combat. Despite legislation passing both the NY State Assembly and Senate, Mayor de Blasio lobbied Governor Cuomo to veto it, citing concerns that it was too great a financial burden on the city. Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill last November.[1]

Statement of Support by Mayor de Blasio. In a press conference during Fleet Week and in anticipation of Memorial Day, the Mayor announced a reversal on his position. He stated that he would support current NY State legislation entitled the Veterans Equality Act,[2] which would extend eligibility for Afghanistan veterans.

Statement of Opposition by Mayor de Blasio. On June 19, Mayor de Blasio again changed his position on the Veterans Equality Act, issuing a Memorandum in Opposition to it,[3] citing financial concerns. He then issued a Memorandum in Support on June 22 for an alternative bill that would provide eligibility only for Afghanistan veterans at the exclusion of other combat veterans who served in locations that are ineligible under current law.[4]

Other Veteran Pension Credit Programs. The federal government gives full credit for all years of active military service for the federal employee pension buyback program.[5] Massachusetts offers up to four years of pension buyback credit for veterans who served at least four years of active duty.[6]

Current NY State Legislation. As of the publication of this report, NY State Senate bill S2124[7] was unanimously passed by the NY State Senate. The corresponding NY State Assembly bill A8174-A[8] passed with only one “no” vote on June 26. Both bills are “All Veterans” versions, and, if signed into law, would update existing legislation by removing a large volume of restrictive wording that describes dates of military conflicts and geographic areas that would then need to be continuously updated to ensure all combat veterans would be eligible. The bill also extends eligibility to include peacetime and stateside veterans, which is consistent with prior inclusion of all veterans during designated pre-1975 conflict periods, regardless of the geographic location of their service. In effect, all honorably discharged veterans with at least five years in civil service would be eligible to purchase up to three years of pension credit. The law would then need no further amendment or update to include future veterans.

Respondent Comments. Comments were offered from respondents on the subject of the pension buyback bill:

  • The 3 year buy back for non-combat is important. I served during a conflict but by luck I was not sent over and I am not eligible. Also female soldiers are not permitted in combat MOS so that limits their chances of serving in combat. So not permitting them to buy back time is sexist.
  • NYS/City pensions should be reserved for those so employed. Public employees, who have significant deductions taken from their wages to pay for the pension system, and must shoulder an increasing share of pension costs, should not be made to subsidize those who have not contributed to the system.

Recommendations. In order to ensure all pension-eligible veterans serving in NY State and NYC government are treated equally and in a similar fashion to federal government employees, and also to rectify the veto of similar legislation last fall, we make the following recommendations:

  1. NYC officials and citizens alike should express their support for Governor Cuomo to sign the Veterans Equality Act bill into law.
  2. If the Veterans Equality Act legislation should again fail due to the Governor’s veto, NYC officials should support similar legislation in the future and not settle for an “Afghanistan-only” update. Mayor de Blasio must support equality for veterans employed in civil service.

[1] http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2014/11/8556399/sponsors-condemn-cuomo-vetoing-veterans-pension-bill

[2] http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/05/8568563/amid-criticism-mayor-meets-top-military-officials

[3] https://nycveteransalliance.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/a8174a-de-blasio-memo-in-opposition.pdf

[4] https://nycveteransalliance.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/a6453-de-blasio-memo-in-support.pdf

[5] https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/fers-information/creditable-service/

[6] http://www.mass.gov/veterans/employment-and-training/civil-service/pension-buy-back.html

[7] http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S4124-2015

[8] http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/A8174A-2015

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