Capital New York: After delays, city veterans commissioner promises movement

The NYC Veterans Alliance was featured in the Capital New York article listed below, written by Gloria Pazmino:

after-delays-city-veterans-commissioner-promises-movementSutton, right. ( Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)TweetShare on Facebook Print

Loree Sutton, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, is hoping that a recent rash of criticism will lead to more collaborative work between the de Blasio administration and veterans to fix what advocates describe as a “crisis” among city veterans.

In an interview with Capital, Sutton said she “applauded” the advocates' energy and enthusiasm.

“The advocates are rightly impatient, I’m impatient, and we are all in this together,” Sutton, a retired Army brigadier general, told Capital.

Mayor Bill De Blasio appointed Sutton nine months into his administration—a delay which advocates criticized as displaying a lack of urgency in addressing their issues.

That was followed by a delay of more than a year in naming his appointments to the Veteran Advisory Board, which is intended to serve as an intermediary between the administration and the local veterans community, and to help guide the city's policy.

Sutton defended the delay, saying the administration had carefully vetted different candidates for the board, and pointed to specific cross-agency collaboration since she took office, to address issues of homelessness, mental health, and unemployment.

“The mayor took his time to select the right commissioner who he wanted to lead his strategy, and I feel very blessed and privileged to be that commissioner, and we are launching full speed ahead the top-tier strategic imperatives,” Sutton said.

Sutton told Capital she has gone on a listening tour since taking office, and has been meeting with other commissioners to foster collaboration on how to address veterans' issues across agencies.

Veterans advocates remained skeptical of the city's promises.

“Enthusiasm is not going to save lives,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and C.E.O. of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, following a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Thursday. “We need actual resources and real programs. We have people with real health problems, 200,00 people with adverse health effects from getting exposed to everything from 9/11 to Agent Orange. You can’t just positive-energy your way out of it.”

Rieckhoff said there are at least 22 veterans a day dying from suicide, over 3,000 V.A. claims are backlogged in New York, where it takes an average of 225 days to complete a claim.

De Blasio pledged to end veteran homelessness in his State of the City speech in February, but advocates said the mayor’s goal relies disproportionately on a grant from the federal government, which will help the city create a housing plan for military veterans in the shelter system.

Kristen Rouse, from the NYC Veterans Alliance called the promise “a misleading announcement.”

Instead, Rouse and other advocates want the administration to increase the budget for Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA) and create a separate department to deal with veterans' issues.

“The mayor and MOVA are providing no new ideas here beyond the handwork that has already been done at the federal level,” Rouse said. “Mayor de Blasio has made no substantive increase in MOVA’s tiny budget since he took office,” she added.

Sutton conceded she would be able to do more with an increased budget and a larger department, but did not commit to supporting a separate city agency.

“I can’t address that, we are looking at a number of proposals,” Sutton said. “I am fully confident that we have and can get whatever resources we need to do the job. No commissioner would ever say they have enough money in their budget, but I’ll stand by the mayor’s commitment and I think the veterans’ advocates will be pleased with the things that are coming up, the things that we are working on."

Rieckhoff, who has repeatedly voiced his support for Sutton, said MOVA will continue to be irrelevant if de Blasio does not commit to increasing its budget or expanding its reach.

MOVA’s budget is just under $600,000, with most of it going towards salaries.

“She has absolutely no resources, it’s essentially a symbolic position,” Rieckhoff said. “She has to do more than just go around to every group and say that she is listening. The city is lucky to have her, but if she doesn’t have the ammunition for the fight, she will not succeed.”