NY Daily News: Why is de Blasio AWOL when it comes to NYC's veterans?

The NYC Veterans Alliance was discussed in the NY Daily News op-ed listed below, written by Paul Rieckhoff:

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiSusan Watts/New York Daily News

Veterans have been here for New York. Where's the mayor when they need him?

I’m an Iraq veteran and 9/11 first responder. My first combat activation began 14 years ago just south of City Hall when our city was attacked. My brothers and sisters in arms were united on that fateful day. And we are united again now. We are united in our disappointment in Mayor de Blasio for his total lack of leadership on veteran’s issues.

As our fellow New Yorkers in the military serve right now on the dangerous battleground in Afghanistan, and as thousands of them return home monthly, our city’s commander in chief is AWOL.

That’s why veteran’s organizations of all generations and from across the city — including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the NYC Veterans Alliance, NY Metro vets and members of the mayor’s own Veterans Advisory Board — united last week on the steps of City Hall. Joined by military families, gold star parents and former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Terry Holliday, we stood united at City Hall representing over 200,000 veterans from across all five boroughs to ask for de Blasio’s help.

We need it now. And we need it badly.

We’ve got a hell of a fight on our hands. Nationwide, 22 veterans are dying from suicide every single day. We have an unacceptable level of unemployment and homelessness. The VA is still reeling from a total crisis last summer, with over 3,000 claims backlogged in New York and an average of 225 days just to complete a claim. Across the city, veterans are ridiculously waiting an average of more than 6 months to even receive the benefits we’ve earned.

We fought Al-Qaeda after 9/11. We shouldn’t have to fight red tape now that we’re home. We need our mayor to fight for us.

But de Blasio has yet to meet with his own city’s veteran leaders since taking office. Not once.

He met with advocates for horse carriage drivers. He met with the Russian band Pussy Riot. This week, he even met with voters in Iowa. He hasn’t even met with his own veteran’s advisory board.

Finally, it’s not about meetings. It’s about action. And sadly, there’s been none of that either.

He promised us a plan for veterans in 90 days. That was in November.

In the greatest city in the world, we don’t even have a city department of veteran affairs. In a city budget of over $75 billion, $600,000 is designated for veterans through the absurdly ineffective Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs — with almost half of that going to the commissioner’s salary. Even the three under-performing caseworkers the office once had are now gone.

The day before Veterans Day last year, de Blasio actually stood with Gov. Cuomo to oppose legislation to give pension credit for military service, saying it was too expensive — a shocking slap to veterans across the city on the eve of the country’s largest Veterans Day Parade.

Our city’s veterans know our mayor is derelict in his duties. That’s why when we polled IAVA members across the city this week, 81% said Mayor de Blasio was failing them. And 95% felt he wasn’t listening to them.

New Veterans Commissioner Loree Sutton was appointed to great fanfare last fall and is a committed leader. That’s why we recommended the mayor choose her. But as we warned, without resources, she’s nothing more than symbolic. She can’t do it alone.

Our simple message to the mayor (along with the City Council and all New Yorkers) : Lead the way. Show us you care. That New York City wants us here.

Start by simply meeting with us and showing us a real plan of action. One with resources. We also encourage the mayor, the City Council and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to immediately pass urgent pending legislation to create a real City Department of Veterans Affair. The bill, introduced by Veterans Committee Chairman Eric Ulrich at the request of IAVA and leading veterans groups, now has over 40 co-sponsors. The Council must send the veterans community the reinforcements we need. Nobody can win a fight without ammunition.

Mr. Mayor, your dad was a World War Two veteran tragically lost to suicide, just like so many of our buddies. You must understand what we’re facing.

We don’t want a fight with you. We’re all combat veterans and we’ve had enough fighting to last a lifetime. And after the last year of politics in this city, we’re sure that you have too. We need your help.

It’s long past time for you to stand up and show the city’s veterans that you’ve got our back. With Memorial Day and Fleet Week fast approaching next month, we’ll be waiting and America will be watching. Like hundreds of thousands of us did over the generations, we hope you’ll answer the call.

Rieckhoff is the Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the author of “Chasing Ghosts.”