Report: Reforming the Veterans Advisory Board

Report: Reforming the Veterans Advisory Board

In February 2015, following the start of this survey, the City Council passed legislation to reform the Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) by expanding the number of appointees, providing clearer guidance on the role of VAB members, and mandating greater transparency in the meetings and activities of the VAB. Shortly thereafter, the bills were signed as Local Laws 24 and 25,[1] and new members of the VAB were appointed by both the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council.[2] Strong support by survey respondents for this initiative was noted at the time the bill was under consideration. A total of 80.68% of respondents indicated that they view this as either essential or very important.

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Testimony on VAB Reform. At the City Council hearing on reforming the VAB in February 2015, the NYC Veterans Alliance testified in favor of reforming the VAB, citing the strong support indicated by survey respondents at that point in time.[3] Our recommendations for reform included:

  • The VAB should hold meetings in all five boroughs and community attendance should be maximized.
  • VAB appointees should abide by the terms of their appointments and be actively involved in the community.
  • VAB appointees should represent diversity in conflict areas and eras, branch of service, officer and enlisted experience, and diverse areas of engagement in the NYC veterans community.
  • The VAB should make public an annual report of recommendations made to MOVA, to include issues raised, community input, and expenditure of any funds.

Most of these recommendations were included in the final legislation, which was signed into law in late February 2015.[4] This testimony and the reforms becoming law represents significant progress for the Veterans Advisory Board. At a press conference in March with the Speaker of the NYC Council, the NYC Veterans Alliance touted this reform as a great start for NYC veterans under the de Blasio administration.[5]

Current VAB. The VAB now consists of eleven members, two of whom are women.[6] Members are involved in the following organizations: Vietnam Veterans of America, Jewish War Veterans, Goldman Sachs Veterans Network, Wounded Warrior Project, JP Morgan Chase Office of Veterans and Military Affairs, American Legion, NYC Veterans Alliance, Catholic War Veterans, and others. Members also have experience working at the following agencies: CUNY, Staten Island Vet Center, NYPD, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Other Veterans Advisory Bodies in NYC. In previous years, a Women Veterans Advisory Board held meetings to advise MOVA on the needs of women veterans, although this board is not recognized as an official city board.  Other Advisory bodies in the boroughs include the Bronx Borough President’s Veteran Advisory Council, the Staten Island Borough President’s Veterans Advisory Council and Youth Veteran Advisory Council. The Queens Borough President’s Office has a Veterans Affairs Liaison.

Respondent Comments. Comments from respondents on the topic of the VAB and other veterans advisory bodies included: 

  • Mandate a position on future Veterans Advisory Boards be reserved for a Women Veteran with the Official role as Women Veteran Advocate. Whose role would be to convene Women Veteran committees to ensure the unique needs of Women Veterans are at the table for discussion.
  • Make members of each Borough President equal to gov't employees by giving them NYC/ Boro ID cards to enter Official Personnel entrances vice standing on long lines for short meetings. Other counties do this. A matter of PRIDE in working for the Boro Pres./ NYC Vet Advisory Councils.

Recommendations. Recent reform legislation greatly improved the VAB by updating its composition and improving transparency and accountability. New VAB members have been appointed, with most starting on three-year terms. This is progress, but the work is not yet finished. We therefore make the following recommendations as the VAB moves forward with a new era of meetings and advising MOVA: 

  1. MOVA must look to the VAB as a true advisor and partner, and the VAB’s recommendations should be implemented as policy and/or direct action whenever possible.
  2. VAB members should ensure coordination and input from veterans affairs bodies and liaisons at borough president offices.
  3. City resources should be made available to VAB members for conducting VAB business. City government identification cards are needed to present to members of the public asking for VAB appointment credentials. City email addresses are needed for professional VAB communications. Unpaid interns at city agencies are granted IDs and email addresses, but city IDs and email addresses are not currently available for VAB members who are serving three-year appointments and have passed full background screenings.
  4. Public input at meetings should be recorded and addressed by the VAB, and city resources should be used to support professional transcription of all public statements made at VAB meetings to be kept as public record.
  5. VAB members should ensure special consideration is given to issues affecting minority and less-served demographics within the NYC veterans community, such as: spouses, partners, and family members; the unique needs of women veterans; the needs of non-citizen veterans; the needs of aging veterans; and the needs of veterans discharged with “bad paper.”[7]
  6. VAB composition and meeting locations should take into consideration the veteran population density of each borough and areas within the borough in order to maximize representation and participation of NYC veterans.

 

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