Politico New York: De Blasio administration won’t back veteran task force bill

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

de-blasio-administration-wont-back-veteran-task-force-billBill de Blasio and Loree Sutton. (Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)TweetShare on Facebook Print

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration said Friday it will not back a City Council proposal to create a task force to study veterans in the city’s criminal justice system.

The measure was introduced by Councilman Eric Ulrich, who chairs the Council’s committee on veterans, and has 15 sponsors so far.

The proposal would require the city to study what causes veterans to enter the city's criminal justice system as well as those veterans' specifics needs. It would also require the city to make recommendations on what the city can do to limit the number of veterans in the system and help those who are incarcerated.

During a Council hearing on the measure Friday, Loree Sutton, the commissioner of the mayor’s office of veterans’ affairs, said the proposal's merits are already included in the city’s behavioral health task force, launched earlier this summer, and signaled that creating a second task force would be redundant.

“We do not believe that the creation of an additional task force would help us accomplish our shared goals,” she told Council members.

The first task force, she said, has already implemented changes to better address veterans' needs — including collecting data on those who are arrested and processed. It has directed the city's Criminal Justice Agency, which screens for veteran status before arraignment, to include more direct questions to defendants about veteran status and improve the military service form to be more inclusive for other areas of service, including the National Guard and the Reserves.

The CJA has also agreed to release the names of veterans involved in the criminal justice system in the city to the VA, Sutton said. 

According to data provided by the Council, in 2014 the number of defendants identifying themselves as having served in the military totaled 5,181 — including 1,552 in Brooklyn, 1,392 in Manhattan, 1,254 in Queens, 826 in the Bronx and 165 in Staten Island.

But Sutton cautioned that the data collection poses some risks that should be examined before a decision is made on what to do with the information gathered. None of the possibilities was discussed during the hearing, however.

“The data collection outlined in the bill speaks to the importance of information sharing in this effort, but it does pose significant operational and fiscal concerns that we want to discuss further with you in the council and those in the advocate community,” Sutton said.

Testifying at the hearing, Kristen Rouse — the founding director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, which supports Ulrich’s bill — echoed a similar concern, saying that many veterans who wind up in the criminal justice system do not disclose their status out of fear of losing their VA benefits.

“The task force should include the impacts of this loss of income on the incarcerated veterans’ households, as well as their ability to reintegrate back home successfully upon release,” Rouse added.

During the hearing, Ulrich asked Sutton why the administration wasn't willing to back the bill, considering it is already collecting information and working on programs to help veterans.

“We already have a task force that is set up,” Sutton said. “It’s not that the administration is uncomfortable with anything. We share these goals, and we applaud them. The conversation that we look forward to having is looking at the data collection elements."