Oversight of NYC Funds Going to Veterans Organizations
Last week the City Council released the list of organizations to receive discretionary funds for Fiscal Year 2016 for providing veterans services. These are critical funds, and organizations have provided valuable direct assistance and services to veterans in NYC. These funds provided by the City Council are entirely separate from the budget of the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA), and are not overseen in any formal way by MOVA.
As we described last week, the City Council has more than doubled the amount of discretionary funds it has allocated for Veterans Services in FY 2016. This year $940,000 will be granted to organizations serving NYC veterans, up from $400,000 last year. The recipients include:
- Project Renewal culinary arts training program for veterans at risk for homelessness ($150,000, overseen by DHS)
- Helmets to Hardhats program for transitioning veterans and military reservists into construction careers ($150,000, overseen by SBS)
- NY Legal Assistance Group and Legal Services NYC programs providing veterans with vital legal assistance ($350,000, overseen by HRA)
- NYU Langone’s Military Family Clinic and the Veterans Mental Health Coalition programs related to mental health services for veterans and families ($190,000, overseen by DOHMH)
- As-yet designated programs and organizations for the veterans community ($100,000, overseen by DYCD)
It is vital that NYC government support direct services to our veterans, and we appreciate all the work and advocacy of City Council members and their staff that went into this significant increase in funding from last year. It is also important, however, that NYC government properly oversee how these funds are being spent, and to measure the outcomes of these programs.
In our 2015 Survey of NYC Veterans Policy Priorities, a proposal for vetting organizations that receive NYC funds was the second-most important initiative of the sixteen included in the survey. Below is an excerpt from the report on this proposal. The full report can be viewed here: Change is Essential: Report on the 2015 Survey of NYC Veterans Policy Priorities
Vetting Organizations That Receive NYC Funds
Advocates have proposed that veteran service organizations (VSOs) receiving NYC tax dollars to provide services to veterans should be held accountable for the services they provide and to NYC veterans spanning across all demographic groups and generations of service. This initiative ranked second in receiving the strongest support of the sixteen listed in the survey. A total of 94.26% of respondents indicated that they view this as either essential or very important.
Specified Purposes. Last year the NYC Council provided $400,000 in discretionary funds to five organizations serving veterans in NYC. These funds were not overseen by NYC veterans affairs representatives, but instead by officials from other NYC agencies as described below. Purposes for the funding did not include measurable outcomes and were in some cases unspecific and not tied to direct services. These purposes were listed in the budget as follows:
- Funding will be used to facilitate transition of veterans, National Guard and Reservists into quality job training and careers within the construction industry.
- Funding will provide legal services for NYC Veterans on a broad range of matters which include: family law, housing, public benefits, healthcare and home care, financial planning, and consumer protection.
- Funding will be used to support… a diverse coalition of 1,000 members….. The Coalition is a broad based credible voice for the behavioral health needs of veterans and their families
- Funding is for programs in four key impact areas: supporting new veterans in health, education, employment and building a lasting community for vets and their families
- Funding will provide... program assistance to women veterans in New York City who have experienced or continue to experience various forms of discrimination relating to their military service.
Unclear Purposes and Outcomes. The stated purposes of the funding were unspecific and did not provide measurable outcomes that personnel and agencies providing oversight could adequately assess. Two of the five organizations that received funding did not provide direct services to veterans in NYC during the fiscal year the funding was granted. No goals for number of veterans served or other such metrics were identified.
Oversight. The five organizations receiving discretionary funds for veterans services were overseen by the following NYC agencies: Small Business Services (SBS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). No oversight was provided by officials who are familiar with veterans’ unique needs or the VA system of benefits. The Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) was not involved with the grantees in any official capacity related to these funds.
Respondent Comments. Comments from respondents related to vetting organizations receiving NYC funds include:
- Please ensure that any and all Veteran Service Organizations actually help Veterans and not just the administrators of the program.
- Strongly agree with efforts towards transparency for any organization purporting to serve veterans and for better advocacy by city officials with the VA on behalf of veterans.
- Accountability from every veteran organization is essential. Accurate reporting from every organization of how many and how veterans are served is essential.
- Adequate vetting to ensure ONLY honorably discharged veterans are receiving services is very important to me.
- Fund and implement OASAS certified programs with veterans-specific treatment services to address the issue of alcohol and drug dependence and PTSD among veterans.
- Have funding available for organizations who work with those suffering from PTS.
Recommendations. In the absence of a more sufficiently resourced agency for veterans affairs in NYC, City Council discretionary funding has attempted to boost local services available for NYC veterans. This funding, however, has not produced consistent results for NYC veterans. We therefore make the following recommendations:
- Oversight and auditing of NYC discretionary funding provided to organizations should be under the purview of NYC’s veterans affairs agency, yet this is not possible as long as veterans affairs remains only an extension of the Mayor’s office (i.e., a Mayoral office auditing City Council grants is not a viable option legally). This should be a function of a Department of Veterans Affairs that would be accountable to both the Mayor and City Council.
- City Council discretionary funds for veteran services should only be granted to organizations providing direct services and/or case management for veterans receiving direct services in NYC.
- Direct services provided by organizations receiving NYC funding should be accessible by all veterans of all eras, even if targeted at specific or under-served populations. Government dollars should not be used to assist only young veterans at the exclusion of a larger population of veterans who are also in need.
- The City Council should state clear purposes and measurable outcomes for organizations receiving discretionary funds. If an organization does not meet the stated purposes and outcomes for the funding received, it should not receive future city dollars, and should be held to city standards for vendors that do not fulfill the specifications of a city contract.
The City Council Veterans Committee should hold a hearing at the end of each fiscal year in which organizations that received discretionary funds for veterans services provide a report of the number of veterans reached, the scope of their activities, and the outcomes of the services they provided to the NYC veterans community.
 Page 77, “Fiscal Year 2015 Adopted Expense Budget Adjustment Summary / Schedule C,” http://council.nyc.gov/downloads/pdf/budget/2015/FY15%20Schedule%20C%20Template%20-%20Final.pdf
 Pages 77-78, ibid.
 Organization names are not included here in order to focus attention on government policy rather than single out the performance of any organization.
 See pages 26-30 of this report for information on increasing the budget for NYC veterans affairs.
 See pages 51-57 of this report for information on the proposal to create a NYC Department of Veterans Affairs.