Report: Creating NYC Department of Veterans Affairs

Report: Creating NYC Department of Veterans Affairs

The City Council Veterans Committee has introduced a bill that would elevate the current Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) to an independent agency that would centralize oversight and management of veterans affairs in NYC and be accountable to both the Mayor and City Council. MOVA currently is only accountable to the Mayor. As of the release of this report, this bill is pending in committee. A total of 84.37% of respondents indicated this initiative was either essential or very important to them.

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Current Role of MOVA. The NYC Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) currently states the following information on its website:[1]

The Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA) was established by local law 53 in 1987.  MOVA advises the Mayor on issues and initiatives impacting the veteran and military community.  MOVA works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs (NYSDVA), City Agencies, veteran's organizations and other stakeholders to offer services to veterans, their dependents and survivors; while encouraging innovative partnerships to ensure creative problem solving.

This web site contains a wealth of information and is designed specifically to accommodate the needs of the veteran and military community; whether you are currently serving or a veteran, MOVA can be a great resource either through this website or by calling our office at 212-442-4171 or going to 311 Online.  Our Office is located at 346 Broadway, 8 West.  (Entrance for visitors is on 108 Leonard Street)

Duties Specified in City Charter. The New York City Charter specifies the following powers and duties for MOVA:[2]

The  office:  1.  shall  have  such  powers  as provided by the director of the state veterans' service agency and shall  have  the  duty  to  inform military and naval authorities of the United  States and assist members of the armed  forces  and  veterans,  who  are  residents  of this state, and their families, in relation to

a)    matters  pertaining  to  educational  training  and   retraining   services   and facilities,  

b)    health,   medical  and  rehabilitation  service  and  facilities, 

c)    provisions  of  federal,  state  and  local  laws  and  regulations  affording  special  rights and privileges to members of the  armed forces  and  veterans  and  their  families, 

d)    employment  and  re-employment  services,  and 

e)    other matters of similar, related or appropriate nature. The office also shall perform such other  duties  as may  be  assigned  by  the  state  director of the division of veterans'  affairs;

2. shall utilize, so  far  as  possible,  the  services,  commissions, boards, bureaus, institutions and other agencies of the state and of the  political  subdivisions thereof and all such officers and agencies shall  cooperate with and extend such services and facilities to the office  as  it may require.

Chartered Role vs. Stated Role. The City Charter lists MOVA’s duties to inform and assist military members and veterans in relation to the topics listed above, as well as to utilize, “so far as possible,” all of the resources of the city and state for these purposes. The stated role on MOVA’s website, however, highlights MOVA’s current role in advising the mayor, which is not specified in the City Charter. The website also states that MOVA itself provides services to veterans, which is not completely accurate, given that there are currently no veterans benefits counselors on staff. The website further states that MOVA engages government agencies, veterans organizations, and stakeholders to encourage “innovative partnerships” and “creative problem solving.” It remains a matter of interpretation as to whether these latter functions meet the City Charter’s directive to “utilize, so far as possible” all of these resources to inform and assist military members and veterans in NYC.

Current Limitations of MOVA. MOVA currently has a Commissioner and five staff members who operated last year on a budget of $614,274, with $311,780 being funded by a New York State grant for a dedicated NYC (county) veterans affairs agency.[3] Given the duties specified in the City Charter for MOVA, in addition to the current scope of veterans’ needs and the resource landscape for NYC veterans, we observe that MOVA currently has the following limitations:

  • MOVA has no staff dedicated to programmatic oversight of veteran-specific initiatives or to providing direct services for veterans.
  • MOVA does not currently have veterans benefits counselors on staff to assist veterans who call or visit the office seeking assistance.
  • MOVA has no ability to oversee the City Council discretionary funds provided annually to organizations providing services for veterans.[4]
  • Benefits, services, programs, regulations, and requirements that are applicable to veterans either employed by or served by NYC’s 120+ offices and agencies are not fully coordinated and communicated by MOVA.
  • MOVA does not currently function as a hub that fully informs and connects veterans with the full scope of resources available from NYC-based nonprofits and government agencies that serve veterans. A comprehensive, up-to-date guide to resources available in NYC has not been made public, and MOVA does not inform the public even of many of the military and veterans events MOVA officials attend and participate in.

Testimony on Oversight of MOVA. On May 6, 2015, the NYC Veterans Alliance testified at a City Council hearing on the oversight of MOVA. Our testimony recognized the work of the MOVA Commissioner and five staff members, but pointed out that MOVA’s staffing and budget are insufficient for the proper oversight of veterans affairs for the nation’s largest city. Our testimony made the following recommendations:

  • NYC government must allocate more funding for veterans affairs to enable more sufficient staffing and resourcing of programs and oversight.
  • NYC government must empower MOVA to oversee and coordinate all city funding and programs targeted at veterans, to include oversight of City Council discretionary funds currently overseen by other agencies and coordination and/or oversight of programs such as:
    • NYC, VA, and nonprofit efforts to combat veteran homelessness
    • NYC veteran housing initiatives
    • Veteran Treatment Courts in NYC
    • CUNY and other higher education programs serving student veterans
    • Training and resourcing of Veterans Liaisons who ensure veteran and military employees of NYC government receive proper protections and benefits
    • NYC vending licenses for disabled veterans
    • Veteran business and employment opportunities
    • Assessments of NYC agency outreach and service to veterans
    • MOVA should serve as a true liaison for the implementation of federal funds and programs serving veterans in NYC, to include the $3.4 million in federal funds granted to NYC government for veteran homelessness, as well as addressing the quality of services provided by the VA to NYC veterans.

Proposed Department of Veterans Affairs. Council Member Eric Ulrich introduced a bill last year that proposes to create an independent Department of Veterans Affairs. As of the release of this report, the bill is in committee and has more than thirty sponsors.[5] A summary of the bill is as follows:[6]

Currently, Section 14 of the New York City Charter establishes an Office of Veterans Affairs within the mayor’s office. This bill would establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs (the “Department”), headed by a Commissioner of Veterans Affairs. The bill would provide the Department with the responsibility to cooperate with federal, state, and local agencies and to inform and assist members of the armed forces and veterans, and their families in matters relating to: educational training and retraining services and facilities; health, medical, and rehabilitation services and facilities; provisions of federal, state, and local laws and regulations giving special rights and privileges to members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families; employment and re-employment services; and other appropriate matters.

Additionally, this bill amends the New York City Administrative Code to require the Department to publish information on its website concerning resources intended to assist veterans in obtaining employment, and to consult with city agencies to identify job postings for inclusion on the Federal veterans’ job bank. Finally, the bill requires each city agency to designate an employee to act as a liaison with veterans within the agency, and the Department to provide periodic training to the veterans’ liaisons, as well as to post on its website the names of the liaisons at each city agency.

Benefits of Creating a Department of Veterans Affairs for NYC. If this bill were to pass, it would have the following benefits that are otherwise not possible under the existing MOVA charter:

  • Veterans Affairs would be accountable to both the Mayor’s office and the City Council, which would mean that it would have greater continuity between mayoral administrations because it would no longer be under the total control of each sitting mayor, and thereby wholly subject to whether a mayor prioritizes veterans affairs or not.
  • Being accountable to both the Mayor and elected City Council representatives would also make veterans affairs more responsive to the concerns of the community because veterans could directly petition all of their elected city officials to make improvements.
  • A Department of Veterans Affairs would have the ability to oversee the $400,000 in City Council discretionary funds given annually to organizations that provide services for NYC veterans, an authority which MOVA does not currently have.
  • A Department of Veterans Affairs would have its own budget to manage to provide the direct assistance to military members and veterans that is mandated by the City Charter.
  • A Department of Veterans Affairs would likely be able to add the staffing and resources needed for program management, improved coordination and communication with all NYC agencies, improved coordination and communication with NY State and federal agencies, and more comprehensive coordination and communication with the many nonprofits and veteran service organizations in NYC.
  • A Department of Veterans Affairs would have greater capability to inform military members and veterans in NYC of the comprehensive resources available to them, as mandated by the City Charter. It would also likely be able to add robust and qualified staff to communicate resources and events through far more effective use of social media, online and printed newsletters and brochures, and other communication methods needed to reach the approximately 220,000 veterans and military members residing in NYC.

Respondent Comments. Comments from respondents on the topic of creating a Department of Veterans Affairs include:

  • Establishment of a separate NYC Department of Veteran's Services with proper staffing and adequate budget would go a long way toward the realization of all of the aforementioned priorities and goals listed in this survey.
  • Please establish this as an independent agency beholding to no other government agency is what is needed in New York City. Let New York City be the beacon of light that veterans been seeking: that is a self promoting institution using veterans benefits to grow the veteran and the veteran society.
  • We in the non-profit realm support veteran needs. SSVF, HVRP, need a responsive sluiceway where our programs meet the veterans in need both digitally and in person! How about MOVA!!!
  • Most importantly, a more active MOVA commissioner in implementation of any new policies, nothing has been done by MOVA.
  • We need more than MOVA which under Director Holiday was largely a joke.
  • What about the role of the City as lobbying for VA benefits at the state and federal agency and educating the Veteran community and general public about Veteran issues?
  • I'd like a clearer understanding of what MOVA does, as it doesn't seem like it does much in terms of requiring action on veterans' issues in NYC. I see a lot of speeches by the head of MOVA, but not a lot of review of policies or any real power to make change attributed to the MOVA office.
  • No "new" government agencies! Less red tape.
  • Congratulations to Eric Ulrich and to the members of the NYCC's Veteran's Committee. MOVA should definitely be moved up to the status of a fully accredited and financed "Department".
  • Rather than establish more government bureaucracy and another taxpayer funded budget for politicians and their families and friends how about stopping the stealing of veterans money i.e. Speaker Christine Quinn's Veterans' slush fund and Mayor Bloomberg's illegal taxing of Veterans' income. How about instead of lip service and photo ops for the Military Veterans' who earned and paid for the ground we walk on Public Servants don't need special agencies to do what's right for the ones who keep them and their families alive in the USA.

Recommendations. MOVA’s current level of staffing and resourcing is far too limited to manage veterans affairs for the largest city and the largest city government in the country, and it is also insufficient for MOVA to fulfill the duties currently mandated for it by the City Charter. MOVA also has too limited authority to fulfill its chartered role and properly oversee programs, funding, and resources that serve NYC’s veterans, service members, and their families. A separate Department of Veterans Affairs should be established and fully resourced to achieve the outcomes intended by the City Charter. We therefore make the following recommendations:

  1. The City Council should pass a bill and all necessary appropriations without delay to establish and fully resource a functional Department of Veterans Affairs for NYC. The Mayor should then sign this into law at the earliest opportunity.
  2. The NYC Department of Veterans Affairs should implement VA-certified  veterans benefits counselors, as described on pages 62-65 of this report, to assist military members and veterans as specified in the City Charter.
  3. The NYC Department of Veterans Affairs should assign experienced and qualified staff members as program managers to communicate, collaborate, develop plans, hold coordination meetings, and otherwise partner with the government agencies, veterans organizations, and other stakeholders involved in the delivery of veteran-specific services in NYC—in order to fully utilize, “so far as possible,” (as specified in the City Charter) all of these resources in a coordinated, streamlined way.
  4. The NYC Department of Veterans Affairs should provide ongoing, proper oversight of all city funds granted to organizations providing services to veterans in NYC in order to maximize the quality and benefit of these services for the most veterans.
  5. The NYC Department of Veterans Affairs should assign staff who are experienced in media communications to spearhead communications initiatives to inform as many NYC veterans and service members as possible (as specified in the City Charter). This should include printed and online materials as well as robust social media outreach to promote comprehensive awareness of all benefits, services, resources, and veterans resource events available in NYC.

 

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