Our Voices

Veterans Left Behind

by Everett Cox

everett.jpgEverett Cox is a Vietnam veteran, writer, and artist who is committed to his part-time work of helping veterans in crisis in Orange County, New York. He writes frankly about the exhaustion that service providers often feel at the magnitude of veterans needing complex, painstaking help, and who are often challenging to reach.

I visit vets. Two, sometimes three days a week, I visit vets. A vet in jail or under a bridge, in a McDonalds, in their homes, or at a shelter. I visit addicted vets, old vets, delusional vets, suicidal vets. We share stories, sometimes a cup of coffee or cheap burger, sometimes a ride together in my car - to the supermarket or VA clinic or soup kitchen, usually a smoke shop. Between visits, I drive all over the beautiful countryside, the farmlands, rolling hills, forests, high vistas, along rivers, stony cuts. Between visits, in my car, by myself. I weep.

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Suicide Prevention Month: Lessons from a Loss Survivor

by Meaghan Smith

mike_and_me.jpgSince my brother Mike’s service-related suicide in October 2010, I’ve experienced many an awkward pause when the inevitable, “what does your brother do now?” question comes up. September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month doesn’t diminish those awkward pauses, nor does it make it all of a sudden any easier to talk about suicide. It’s a difficult topic that many Americans feel ill-equipped to discuss.

This is the time of year we see a surge in social media posts on suicide prevention, where well-intended people offer themselves as “a port in the storm,” or challenging others, “I bet not one of my friends will copy/paste this message” about suicide prevention resources.  Others link to vital resources available to those in crisis and ways that family and friends can keep an eye out for signs and help those in need. These are all important to spread awareness, yet 20 veterans still die by suicide every day and 44,193 Americans die by suicide each year. It’s as if we–the “unaffected”–expect the signs that our loved ones are struggling with will be visible. We assume there will be one or more cries for help. We assume there will be a marked difference in our loved one’s behavior.

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BULLET CATCHERS – Women’s Modern Warfare

by Rachel Kambury 

BulletCatchersSP.jpgBullet Catchers, an evocative, elemental play-meets-movement piece-meets-a cappella performance directed by Julia Sears, succeeds in a way that no other play I’ve seen in the past two years has, and for so many reasons. 

Seeing Bullet Catchers the day after Donald Trump attempted, in a series of tweets, to ban transgender men and women from the armed forces and fire those already serving made for a poignant experience from the moment I walked into Judson Memorial Church last Thursday. While waiting for the show to begin, audience members play vintage table hockey in the back, away from the floor stage; cost of drinks is “recommended donation.” Under the lofted ceiling, the set design is as minimalist as you can get: six white plastic masks arranged in the middle of the floor, and two long boxes upstage. 

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DUNKIRK: A New Kind of War Film

By Rachel Kambury

kambury.jpgOn July 18, NYC Veterans Alliance members & supporters were invited to attend the red-carpet premiere of DUNKIRK, a new film set during World War II directed by Christopher Nolan. Our member Rachel Kambury is a writer, editor, and publishing professional specializing in war literature. She attended and offered her poignant review of the film. 

Nolan’s newest directorial outing is less of a mind-warp than his usual fare. Absent are the reality-bending dreamscapes, the interstellar space travels, the twin tattooed narratives being told in opposite directions, and no one dressed like a bat. In DUNKIRK, there is only the land, and the air, and the sea.

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VA Wellness and the Prioritization Problem

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by Elana Duffy

Last Friday was a busy day for VA Secretary Shulkin: New legislation for enhanced whistleblower protections and shortened investigative and termination procedures for VA employees was signed into effect, indicating a welcome change in administrative practices to ensure improved quality of service through ensuring the right people with the right priorities are in the right positions.

Following the signature, Secretary Shulkin spoke to the press on issues beyond the bill, hinting at his new direction for VA healthcare. It was during this impromptu presser that Shulkin uttered the words “Our system incentivizes disability, when our system should be incentivizing health and well-being."

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Rewiring the Network: Changes Needed in VA Healthcare

by Elana Duffy

elana_range.jpgSecretary Shulkin and his team at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) have been busy. From recent bills passed to upgrade Bad Paper Discharges to the extension of the VA Choice Program, VA is certainly not sitting still.

These were easy wins. Expanded access to mental health care, reducing mental health stigma with the re-evaluation of behavioral discharges for those diagnosed with PTSD, and extending Choice were no-brainers. That these wins were easy does not diminish their value; these programs and policies were needed victories. But they were easy upgrades, like downloading the latest smartphone operating system to improve performance: small changes with moderate impact.

So now I would like to see VA not just upgrade the operating system but rewire the network. I want them to take on a challenge that isn’t so easy, but one that attacks a root condition so time and money spent implementing yields huge results.

 

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Realizing And Caring About Who We Are

by Jeremy Warneke

jeremywarneke.JPGWho or what is a United States military veteran? If you’re a veteran, you may know the answer or think you know. But do you?

According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service Report, “a veteran is defined as a ‘person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.’”

I didn’t always know that.

As Ted Puntillo, director of Veteran Services for Solano County, California, said in 2013, “Some people with an honorable discharge do not think they are a veteran because they only served for two years, did not serve in combat or were not injured in the service. Women and people who served honorably in the National Guard and Reserves are often unsure of their status." 

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Veterans with PTSD Are Being Denied Life Insurance. What's Happening?

by William Michael Day

michael.jpgIn March 2017, William Michael Day was denied life insurance because of his PTSD diagnosis. He began asking his friends if they've had similar experiences, and he took it upon himself to research the situation to examine the legality and consequences of when veterans like himself are denied life insurance because of PTSD or other diagnoses. The result is a thoughtful exploration of how mental health and insurance intersect, and the real-life consequences of those intersections for veterans and their families.

 

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Honoring Timothy Caughman by Speaking Against Hate

by Alexander McCoy

mccoy.jpgYesterday in New York City, Timothy Caughman, a black man who also was known by the nickname “Hard Rock,” was ruthlessly murdered by an Army veteran. The killer told NYPD investigators that he traveled from Baltimore explicitly to kill black men, and that he had harbored intense, racist hatred for a decade, which means his hateful aggression overlapped and accelerated during his service in the Army as a military intelligence specialist.

As we remember the life of Timothy Caughman, and other black lives lost to racist violence, members of the veteran community need to grapple with what it means that his killer was a veteran.

The first temptation is to dismiss it, or blame the media for highlighting the killer’s service. To be sure, the Army did not give him this murderous mission, or glorify his racist ideology. But what bothers me is that our community does so little to actively speak out against the kind of hate that this crime represents.

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A Veteran's Winning Startup: Learning from Rep. Seth Moulton

by Jessica Apgar

moulton_visit.jpgIf there is one thing Congressman Seth Moulton and President Trump have in common, it’s that they both have great Twitter game. The tech-savvy Representative of the 6th Congressional District of Massachusetts recently visited New York City’s Civic Hall for an IBM Think Leaders discussion about how technology has changed government and politics. Rep. Moulton is a multi-tour combat veteran and among the best of our generation in bridging the partisan divide in Congress. Before Rep. Moulton took the stage at Civic Hall, the NYC Veterans Alliance Fellows were offered a unique and exclusive meeting with the Congressman. In January, the Fellows spent four days of intensive training in Washington, D.C., on how to run for elected office and are currently planning a NYC Veteran Candidate Workshop in April, so the Fellows happily engaged Rep. Moulton with questions. Rep. Moulton spoke candidly with us about his decision to run for office, his underdog race, and what it’s like to be a post-9/11 veteran serving in Congress.

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From Washington, D.C., to Lobby Week NYC: Two Rising Leaders

by Ksenia Voropaeva and Molly Pearl

Ksenia and MollyIn January, we selected six veterans and one veteran spouse & caregiver as Fellows in our Get Ready to Run program and brought them to Washington, D.C., for four days of intensive training on how to run for elected office. This is a year-long Fellowship, and our Fellows continue to be involved and grow as leaders and advocates. Some of our Fellows were part of our Lobby Week last month. Here’s what two of them had to say about it:

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Civic Tech for NYC Veterans Policy

by Olivia Meier

Olivia at Civic HallOn February 16, 2017, Olivia Meier, Operations Manager of the NYC Veterans Alliance, gave a short presentation at Civic Hall to share the Alliance’s mission and our partnership with Councilmatic. Below is a written version of her remarks.

Over the past two years, the NYC Veterans Alliance has had 4 main objectives: to maintain a hub of community information for NYC veterans, advocate for veterans & their families in NYC, create a nonpartisan training program to get veterans & spouses ready to run for office, and increase the level of civic engagement for our veterans community. All of this, while working to ensure that we are as inclusive an organization as we can be.

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File for Free: A Few Tax Tips for NYC Veterans

by Melanie Lavelle

melanie.jpgHello beautiful NYC Veterans community. First, thank you for your service.  Second, we know how hard you have had to fight even here at home for the benefits you’ve already earned. So pat yourselves on the back for all the hard work.  

We are in full-on tax season right now, and we at Benefit Kitchen wanted you to know that you can get your taxes done for FREE here in NYC if you meet certain criteria. General eligibility for most free tax-preparation sites is that you must have earned $54,000 or less in 2016, or you need help because you’re disabled or 60 years or older.

Why is it important to use these free services?  In America, two of the biggest tax preparers get 17 cents to the federal dollar we spend on the earned income tax credit.  Big fees and sometimes questionable expedited cash practices eat into the tax credits you have earned.  Please do yourself a favor and go find a site where kind volunteers trained by the IRS will do them for you--for free.

 

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Drain the Swamp? How the Hiring Freeze Hurts Veteran Healthcare

by Dan Gorman

team_dan.jpgI’m a combat veteran who receives medical services from the VA here in Manhattan. For a long time, I avoided going because I felt that I wasn’t injured enough to warrant care, or at least not in the same way or degree that some of our more traumatized brethren are. But after battling frequent migraines and a bad back for the last ten years, I decided to reengage and see if there were any treatments that may help.

My first impression was that, by and large, the folks at the VA do greatly care about their patients and clients. Of course there are outliers, but the overall care is there. Following that, I quickly realized that this is a large, sluggish system that is working on old models of providing services and is woefully underequipped to be responsive and flexible—two traits the veteran community deserves.

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Hiring and Retaining Veterans & Reservists as Employees

by Kristen L. Rouse

On January 12, 2017, Kristen Rouse, Founding Director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, was invited to give keynote remarks at a business breakfast hosted by Community Training & Employment Resources (CTER) and NYC-Society for Human Resources Management (NYC-SHRM) at the TD Bank at 2 Wall Street in Manhattan. Below is a written adaptation of Kristen's spoken remarks.

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I joined the Army Reserve back in 1994, as a 21-year old who wanted to serve my country, make a better life for myself, and have an experience—wherever that might take me—that I could be truly proud of. I feel very fortunate to be able to report that these almost 23 years later, this has definitely come true. My military service has become an important part of who I am, as well as providing me with essential leadership, team-building skills, and job training that have served me well in my civilian career path.

But I am here to also tell you that it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve faced some truly difficult challenges during the course of my military service, but some of my hardest times over the years haven’t come directly from my military experience—some of my toughest challenges have been as a citizen-soldier trying to navigate civilian housing and employment when they seemed at odds with my service as a military reservist. 

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My First Big Show: Air Force Camo to Blueprint Specials at the USS Intrepid

by Adrienne Brammer

adrienne.pngNursing a sore calf as well as a persistently popping ankle, I lined up with my unit and we repeated a newly learned maneuver, burning it into our muscle memories. However, today I’m on stage, singing about fatigue and no longer shouting until hoarse on a firing range. I’ve traded in a fine layer of grit for dance heels and stretchy clothes. I gave 14 years of service to the U.S. Air Force—and my first big professional show post-active duty life... is a show about the military. 

Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls) wrote a series of four musicals called Blueprint Specials when he was drafted into the Army during WWII as a way to boost the morale of the troops all over the world. There are jokes and songs about basic training, daily military life, and missing home. Everything was packaged in a thick booklet: the script, orchestrations, choreography, and the blueprints to create the set and costumes. There are records of the first productions—even the New York Times wrote a review—but then they were sort of lost to history. When we perform them in January at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, it will be the first time in 70 years anyone will have experienced them.

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The Pentagon Shouldn't Shelve Brain Injury Research to Prevent Injuries Like Mine

by Elana Duffy

lana_nightmission.jpgBefore they shut off the lights for 2016, Department of Defense went through one last round of research funding assessments and shelved a few pieces of technology they felt were underperforming. One of the projects not making the cut were blast gauges mounted on helmets of combat troops, intended to monitor blast wave pressure in roadside bombs.

Sigh.

After fielding gauges with Special Forces troops in Afghanistan the Army found they weren’t getting a lot of data on explosive pressure from roadside bombs, but were generating a lot of data on explosive pressure from weapons our troops were firing. 

No surprise. I do have a hilarious “lessons learned” from 2005 of “never fire an AT4 indoors,” but the actual story is immaterial. We knew that the weapons we were firing were bad for you even if they were fired near you. The saying “Back blast area clear” is not just for the heat that comes from the explosive launch, it’s for the pressure. That pressure, by the way, is strong enough to blow out a wall in a mud hut if you are a smidge too close, but I digress. 

 

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Privatize the VA?

by Elana Duffy

Photo: Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch TimesWhenever I talk about struggles with the VA medical centers, there are two responses I get.

“Oh that is such a shame. We really need to do better for the veterans.”

“Why don’t you just get private insurance?”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about privatizing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, most recently with the elections and cabinet selection. And while the debate rages around me, I tend to respond to these comments with the same exasperated resignation because neither of these seem productive to me in the world of the New York Harbor VA medical system. Yes, it is a shame when we don’t receive care we are promised from our government. Yes, VA could stand a world of improvement.

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So You Want To Be A Caregiver Supportive City?

by Molly Pearl

Molly.jpgLast summer I finally came up for air. Almost two years after my husband’s cancer diagnosis, and a year after his bone marrow transplant, I waded out of the most intensive and challenging period of caregiving I ever experienced. I began to focus my care inward. I went to the doctor and actually talked about my own health. I went to the dentist. I got a massage. I slowly willed myself to stop anticipating an emergency every time my phone rang with an unfamiliar number. I began thinking about what it meant to move forward into a less intensive, yet longer-term caregiving role. “Cancer-free” does not equal a clean bill of health, and all the veteran caregivers out there will nod in understanding when I lament that a decline in physical health often exacerbates underlying depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health challenges. Many veteran caregivers finally get their heads above water only to see that dry land is farther off yet. 

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Running the NYC Marathon for NYC Veterans Alliance!

cg2.jpgby Caitlin Graziano

Friends, Family, Veterans, Civilians, and Warriors of all Persuasions--

The training days are upon us and the countdown is getting real.  I will be running the NYC Marathon on Sunday November 6th, 2016.    

 

 

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Our Members: Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

In April 2016, the NYC Veterans Alliance partnered with WLIW21 on their Veterans Coming Home series. Many of our veteran and civilian members are featured in frank discussions of the divide that exists between those who have served in the military since 2001, and those who haven't--and what we can do better to bridge that divide. WLIW21 has now released the finished videos. Take a look:

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Concerns About the "VA Accountability and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016"

kent.jpgby Kent Eiler

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, but Congress looks likely to pass some version of the "VA Accountability and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016." The summer of 2014 saw the passage of the "Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act".  That members of Congress want to pass significant veterans legislation headed into a fall election season comes as no shock but it's important for veterans advocates to look at, and evaluate, proposed legislation from an efficacy standpoint.  Looking at this legislation I would share with you my own concerns about the proposed legislation.  The number one concern most veterans have who appeal a VA's decision is the length of time those appeals take to wind their way through the VA's complicated adjudication system.  In my view, the current proposed legislation provides no realistic plan for how the more than 450,000 pending appeals at the VA will be handled in a timely and fair fashion.

 

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Marching Against Veteran Suicide

michael.jpgby Michael Abramovich

On Sunday I participated in the VEThack march to end veteran suicide for my second year in the row. This march was going on right around the NYC Veterans Alliance’s first birthday (also my one year anniversary of being an Alliance member).  The march began at Columbus Circle as last year and the route was 3.6 miles and ended at the NYPD’s 20th Precinct HQ where there was a BBQ, followed by a Pub Crawl.

Overall I feel the Vethack march was well organized and it was great chance to build stronger bonds with NYC area veteran community. The weather was beautiful and I was in great company of our awesome NYC veteran family. I was honored to wear my NYC Veterans Alliance t-shirt and continue raising visibility for an organization that does so much for our NYC veterans on the local level. The NYPD being there to assist with traffic control and their support was very welcome. I’m very thankful for the 20th’ Precinct’s hospitality and their company.  

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Fired Up: Register to Vote & Get Ready to Run!

by Kristen L. Rouse

I hope everyone is getting fired up to make a difference in this year’s elections! Veterans and veterans issues are center stage for both parties this year, and we encourage veterans & family members of all political affiliations to get active in the process! Presidential candidates get the limelight with the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia—but remember there are more than 33,000 elected offices nationwide, and nearly 100 in NYC alone--many of which are on the ballot this fall.

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A Suicide Not Taken: My Own

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by Bob Raphael

I encountered my first Veteran Suicide in 1970 when my combat partner, Butch, rode his Harley off a cliff in upstate New York. At his graveside, his young wife screamed at me: "You were his best friend, where the fuck were you?" It was less a question than a pointed accusation.

Not a day goes by that I do not see my Team RWB friends do 22 push-ups to bring awareness to the alarming rate and number of SUICIDES by VETERANS. A new study by the Department of Veterans Affairs using a more detailed methodology has placed the "number" at an average of 20 per day and has more clearly detailed the general demographics behind this number—highlighting frightening increases in female Veterans and once again noting that the majority of SUICIDES are MEN OVER 50.

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Affordable Apartment Primer

by Kristen L. Rouse

Affordable housing is a top priority for our NYC veterans community, and we get frequent questions from veterans who need help with navigating NYC’s rental market. Below is information intended to inform our community and assist them with improving their situation; this list is not comprehensive.

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A Proclamation - Thanks to You!

by Kristen L. Rouse

On Tuesday evening, NYC Public Advocate Tish James presented the NYC Veterans Alliance with a Proclamation that says, in part:

Be it Resolved that I, Public Advocate for the City of New York, Letitia James, recognize the NYC Veterans Alliance as an organization worthy of our highest respect and esteem; and may it further be Proclaimed, that today, June 28, 2016, is a day to honor NYC Veterans Alliance.

This Proclamation is thanks to you! We are proud to add this to the two pens we received from Mayor Bill de Blasio when he signed bills that we advocated for into law--in addition to our string of successes over the last year that we hope you take as much pride in as we do.

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A Note of Thanks from the Founding Director

by Kristen L. Rouse

I wanted to express my personal thanks to you for your continued support of the NYC Veterans Alliance as a grassroots startup, working to connect, advocate for, inform, and empower our community in ways that complement and enhance the work being done by so many here in NYC and beyond.

Last June our working group issued the first-ever policy paper on NYC veterans policy, the product of more than a dozen veterans and service providers. We held our first public event last July with the Forum on NYC Veterans Policy, featuring amazing veterans and advocates, and introduced by John Oliver. In August, we launched our Community Calendar, and since then have maintained continuous postings of nearly 500 events for veterans, service members, and their families across the NY Metro area as a free service to our community.

Since last year, we have brought our community together to source policy solutions. We’ve consistently spoken up and testified on issues important to our community, and received coverage in the news. We’ve collaborated with a number of different veterans organizations in NYC, and we continue to seek ways to empower and engage our community.

We’ve significantly influenced five local laws and policies that have been implemented, to include passage of landmark legislation creating the NYC Department of Veterans Services. We’ve sent veterans to Washington, D.C., for training and support to become more engaged as civic leaders and to run for elected office. We have ongoing dialogue with public officials on legislative initiatives and policy. And we’re actively working with leaders and innovators in civic tech to integrate new ideas and solutions to improve the lives of veterans, military members, and their families.

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New York's 2016 Election Season!

by Kristen L. Rouse

You’ve defended American democracy—make sure you exercise your most fundamental right as an American citizen! To vote in New York in 2016, make sure you’re registered at least 25 days in advance of an election, and that your home address and political party are up to date!

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Top Ten Veteran Presidents

by Kristen L. Rouse

 

Making NYC (and America) Great Since 1776

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Join Our Ranks!

by Kristen L. Rouse

Over the last few months, the NYC Veterans Alliance has been busy making a difference for veterans, service members, and their families in the New York Metro area. We're incorporated and filing as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, and we're building steam as a grassroots organization that is member-driven and takes concrete actions on behalf of our community. Here's some of what we've been doing:

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Honoring Father Capodanno

by Kristen L. Rouse

This Friday marks the 48th anniversary of Father Vincent Robert Capodanno being killed in action in Vietnam. Father Capodanno's name is perhaps one of the most recognized in NYC, but many New Yorkers do not know the story of his service and sacrifice.

Father Capodanno

Father Vincent Robert Capodanno

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Call to Action for Student Veterans

by Samuel Innocent

Good day student veterans,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to inform you of a proposed bill that may affect you and most certainly will affect many student veterans in the future: S.752, which would amend New York education law to mandate that the SUNY and CUNY Board of Trustees make a policy for the schools to award academic credits for military training. But for the New York Legislature to pass it, we all need to speak up.

For those of you who know me, you know how passionate I am about this topic; for those of you who don’t, I’ll provide a brief history.

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Announcement!

by Kristen L. Rouse

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Fellow Veterans,

I am writing to announce the start of a new organization: the NYC Veterans Alliance. Since September 2014, I have been meeting with veterans, advocates, and service providers within the veterans community in the NYC Metro area to discuss a new approach to meeting the needs of our veterans. We believe that our City’s vast and incredibly diverse population of veterans, combined with the many other qualities that make NYC the greatest City in the world, provide us a unique opportunity to bring our community together to do great things that will empower even the most underserved and disadvantaged among us. With this in mind, our working group has agreed upon an ambitious mission statement:

The mission of the NYC Veterans Alliance is to achieve a sustainable state of wellness, community, and access to services for all veterans in the New York City Metro area, regardless of service era or discharge status, by engaging in advocacy and facilitating implementation of education and empowerment initiatives among members and member organizations.

 

 

 

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