Capital New York: Amid criticism, mayor meets with top military officials

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

amid-criticism-mayor-meets-top-military-officialsBill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)TweetShare on Facebook Print

Mayor Bill de Blasio held a meeting Thursday with senior military officers in New York for Fleet Week to discuss the work of his administration with veterans.

The closed-press roundtable meeting at City Hall, which was attended by Mayor’s Office of Veteran's Affairs commissioner Loree Sutton and members of the Veterans Advisory Board, was also held to announce de Blasio’s support for the Veterans Equality Act—a bill in Albany that would qualify Afghanistan War veterans who are also public employees to “buy back” up to three years toward their pension based on their military service.

Last year, the Veterans Equality Act was passed by the state Assembly and Senate but vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo after de Blasio expressed concerns about how much it would cost.

De Blasio’s support for the act was reported by Capital on Wednesday, as the Daily News ran a front-page story about the POW-MIA flag not being flown at City Hall.

De Blasio, who has come under criticism from representatives of the city’s veteran community, apologized for not flying the flag and called it a “stupid mistake.”

“It was a stupid mistake—obviously it’s been rectified. It was absolutely a stupid mistake and that certainly won’t happen again,” de Blasio told reporters after his meeting with military officials.

In remarks at the outset of the meeting, before the press was escorted out, de Blasio highlighted his and his wife's families' military background. 

“Our fathers [were] both Army," de Blasio said. "My wife’s father, Robert, served in Europe in World War II in France and Italy; my father Warren served in the Pacific in the 7th Division and a number of places, ultimately Okinawa."

He went on to describe his father’s struggle with mental health issues after he returned home from the war where he was severely wounded and lost his leg.

Without mentioning his father’s suicide, de Blasio said he considered his father a “hero” who carried the effects of war with him when he returned home.

“The understanding of mental health services obviously then was not what it is today,” de Blasio said. “That was a very powerful, obviously painful reality for our family, something that taught me a lot not only about our obligation to help, but the complexity, the challenges.”

Commander Patrick Foster of the U.S.S. Barry told Capital the meeting with the mayor focused on mental health and helping veterans have access to jobs when they leave the military.

“There are folks who have issues, see some things and have gone to places that they are not comfortable with, and it takes time to get that out and be reintegrated,” Foster said. “The mayor and Commissioner [Loree] Sutton talked about veteran benefits, mental health, mainly how to take care of those who need help that may be having mental or physical issues and how to best take care that and integrate them back into society.”

De Blasio’s roundtable with officials  was sharply criticized by local veteran advocates, who suggested the mayor was using the upcoming Memorial Day holiday as an excuse to have a “photo op.”

Kristen Rouse, from the NYC Veterans Alliance, said in a statement that the group was “pleased” to see the mayor was meeting with the military officials for the first time since taking office, but expressed disappointment for what the group believes is his slow pace of action on veterans issues. 

"The Mayor was wrong last fall—and it is important that he make right on his deplorable action against veterans in civil service,” Rouse said in the statement. “But this change of position–while the right thing to do–isn’t the kind of announcement he should be touting in honor of Fleet Week—a celebration of the U.S. Navy—and in advance of the somber holiday of Memorial Day, when we remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation’s wars.”