Transcript: First Policy Agenda Meeting


On September 21, 2015, the NYC Veterans Alliance held its First Policy Agenda Meeting at Civic Hall. Thanks to volunteer Meaghan S., we have a transcript of what was discussed at the meeting.


September 21, 2015

Civic Hall Board Room


Update on Membership Launch – Kristen Rouse

Announcement that membership is live online as of the afternoon. Still some bugs. Hit join and you can join as a member. Will take you to the tiered dues levels.

Some levels are recast from what we discussed last month.

Pay by check or online.

Dues help us do what we do.

More member-only access, how-to events that empower us to be more and do more as part of NYC community

Member t-shirt “a bit shapely” – men’s cut is men’s cut; women’s cut is women’s.

Q: Are the rates yearly?

A: Yes

Partnerships for organizations will come soon. In the works.


Guest Speaker – Oswaldo Pereira from the NYC Public Advocate’s Office

Statement kept off the record as a professional courtesy; topics discussed include:


Problems with student veterans seeking housing with G.I. bill payments

Veteran rallies at City Hall that were effective, but much more to do

Importance of coming together to advocate for veterans issues in NYC

Make developers kinder to vets coming to NYC.

421-A buildings that include affordable housing, but unavailable for many veterans receiving VA payments.

NYCHA housing is available for veterans, but monitoring and enforcement are another story, including Mitchell Lama housing.

The need for positive public messaging about veterans.

Need for change in vending laws for veterans; street vending has been a specific grant to veterans since the 1800s.

Veterans policy needs to include all veterans.


Policy Agenda Intro - Kristen

The census estimates at least 220,000 veterans in NYC, and there are another estimated 500k dependents/household members/spouses/kids. 1 in 16 New Yorkers are affected by local NYC policy or attitude towards vets. We need to show New Yorkers that #NYCVetsMatter.

What would it take to make NYC the best city in the country for vets? That’s the broad goal.

It’s actually a compassionate city. Lots of policies in place to take care of the most vulnerable people. So many people in gov’t who care and serve in so many ways.

NYC was the greatest place for me to come home to after deployment. I believe in veterans. I believe in NYC. I believe in putting it all together. It’s my own sense of purpose. Needed it after three tours in Afghanistan. Needed to feel like I mattered and that other people mattered to me.


Policy Agenda in 2015 - Kristen

Who took the [2015 Survey of NYC Veterans Policy Priorities] Survey Monkey surveys last February? Was sent through a bunch of emails. Disseminated as widely as possible. 400 responses. Veterans were able to say which issues mattered to them. That’s the core of the Alliance: “These are the issues that matter to us.” We need people to get involved with City Council testimonies. Want people in the room to testify in the room next time (“looking at you, Bernard”).

People at the City Council read our policy paper earlier this year [Change is Essential]. It was produced essentially for free (aside from the cost to Kristen). Imagine we’re funded to have a policy program with people researching and becoming experts in certain policy areas. Articles, videos, background on something happening in NYC and why you should care about it. This is something we can do and I want you to be a part of it. Like a “mini think tank.” We have to deal in data. We have to show there’s a problem before we show a solution. We have to show NYC government that we’re paying attention and we care.


Our Mission Statement - Kristen

“The mission of the NYC Veterans Alliance is to achieve a sustainable state of wellness, community, and access to services for all veterans in the New York City Metro area, regardless of service era or discharge status, by engaging in advocacy and facilitating implementation of education and empowerment initiatives among members and their organizations.” 

This statement took a while to create but it holds; we think it can stand the test of time. We assume everyone’s a veteran first, before talking about how you got your discharge. We have to take care of our own. If you served, you’re a veteran.


Open Discussion – Meeting Attendees

Comment: That’s an important distinction. I have a Vietnam-era Vet trying to upgrade and they won’t do it. He’s struggling big time.

Kristen: Thinking broadly, how do we solve this problem? How do we get NYC to get that veterans matter?

Comment: Show numbers.

Comment: We know where the shortcomings of Washington have been, what you do and don’t get. Politicians always looking for their moonshot. We in NYC are doing this, where DC has failed. We’re doing this additional stuff on education, medical care, housing, etc. No one else in the country is doing x or y, here’s your moonshot. NYC is unique to be an incubator for DC.

Comment: I have legislative proposal related to service dogs that’s tied up. If anyone is interested or knows the ropes or knows assemblymen or city council members.

Comment: We need to show where the money is and where it’s going. Don’t need to show our own numbers but how much everything will cost. Hate to say it, but we have to prioritize things: here’s your quick free fix and then we keep building support. Start with some things they can easily jump on, they can push more policies that way. Incorporating 311 with suicide hotline should be an easy thing to do. Get buy-in first with “cheaper stuff.”

Comment: Student veterans are at risk to be homeless. It’s hard to live in NYC. Can’t get an apartment. Why can’t we be put in a dorm room at a local college while we figure things out. “All the times we’ve talked, we’ve never really talked about anything.”

Comment: landlords can’t discriminate against the type of income you have.

Comment: NC is veteran friendly state. Make sure all veterans are registered to vote.

Kristen: We could hold specific voter drives. Veterans are everybody in NYC. We are men, women, Black, White, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, any religion, all eras.

Comment: get “them” to talk about veterans when they’re talking about constituencies and how they’ve voted. Women reported X; Dems reported X; Veterans reported X.

Comment: The news covers it from time to time but they also take special interest in saying someone’s a vet when they’ve done something wrong. What the public knows about vets is that they have issues, but they don’t know a lot about the successes. NYC has a big ego; we certainly want to be the leader. If we can feed the public little things they can do—Millennials want to use their voice and use their networks to spread the word. Need to give the public simple things they can do. Example: Amex program to fund Share Our Strength. Need to give them simple things they can do to help.

Comment: We need to re-educate everyone on “what is a veteran?” everything has been very negative. Second generation vet. Need to reeducate everyone that vets do provide peaceful training, work with other countries to solve other problems, training to protect other countries, as much as ourselves.

Kristen: So tell people about the many different facets to the military but also introduce them to vets who are business owners or run nonprofits who participate in service orgs and make the community better and stronger. The Alliance can be part of broadcasting that. We’re more than just vets. As it grows, we can build more communications outreach to profile veterans.

Comment: We’re more than just stereotypes.

Comment: Importance of being visible and vocal. Part of Society of Artistic Veterans, where there are producers and writers who can put this stuff together.

Comment: We need as many varied organizations as we can to be involved. Who’s operating in the city? If the city knows a significant portion of small biz owners are or care about vets and if we can get them to say “we care” then there’s money there. Empower Our Veterans is a way to share success stories of veterans. Friend at Inside Edition is looking for stories. It’s a good way to start getting the word out. Need to keep focused on other things. Partner with vet orgs, yes, but other orgs in the city: chamber of commerce, JP Morgan, etc.

Comment: Facebook. Friends post stuff on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. Homecoming stories. Stuff that I post is serious issues—suicide or homelessness—they don’t want to know that. Stuff we put out for the general population has to be important and not germane but also can’t freak them out.

Kristen: Value in leveraging the holidays to put stuff out when people are open to it.

Comment: An issue like world hunger is inaccessible to most people. We need to make this personal and let people know what they can do. Very important to garnering public support. Make it an issue the politicians can’t avoid.

Comment:  I keep hearing “public support” but I don’t hear “veteran buy-in.” I bring up vet issues to students all the time and they have no idea. No one’s talking to each other. Need to have buy-in from vets, but don’t forget civilians, we vote too.

Comment: Need for empathy. To show where there’s an injustice is very important. The VA has their own website, representing every state. By keeping things in NYC and letting the public know where we’re at—the hot button issues—take one and show where there’s an injustice. Support each other with the old and new. Let NYC know that this is the need. This is the necessity. Linking to other organizations for veterans in NYC. Television, audio, video. Show the injustice.

Kristen: So how do we decide what issue we focus in on and how do we balance that with showing success stories?

Comment:  Needs to be something attainable. Show people that they do need the help. It’s not too much funding.

Kristen: Something that seemed like an easy ask was Introduction 793, proposing a task force to study vets in the criminal justice system. Staten Island Veterans Treatment Court is supposedly opening, Manhattan has been promised. Overall interest in criminal justice reform. Seems like an easy thing to do but it’s not—the de Blasio administration opposed creation of the task force, which makes no sense. We can talk about low-hanging fruit, but how do we set the agenda for what happens at City Hall? They need to hear from us on what we want, instead of us reacting to what they set for us. We have to tell them what we want worked on.

Comment:  Take one victory. Add making NYC the most vet friendly city in the country to the mission statement. Also need a positioning statement: who you are; where you want to be. You’ve had some small successes and each success allows you to do something. This is what we’ve been able to do. Associate yourself with the success to move NYC to be one of the most veteran friendly cities in the country.

Comment: Have you registered to march in the veteran’s day parade? I suggest you do. In terms of doing background work on policy issues, I know the local colleges and universities would be a great research. Some have to work on issues for organizations for their capstone projects.

Kristen: Not sure how many people we could get to march with the Alliance. There are lots of different organizations. The point of the Alliance is not to pull away from what others are doing. The Alliance is part of planning for a veteran’s unity reception after the parade, which can be a great contribution to the community on Veterans Day.

Comment:  By laying out a vision statement –best city in the country for vets – as opposed to people supporting issues with a negative issue getting support. Negative means you run the risk of seeming like another issues group. People do care, but they’re concerned about a lot of things. Need to capitalize on successes. Road to hell is paved with good intentions. Perfect model of that is the VA.

Comment: Need to balance the successes with the issues. If we paint a rosy picture and talk about how everyone is fine, it’s harder to get the issues solved. RE. the article on suicide in the 2/7 Marines, I get a lot of likes when I post re. my brother, but when I asked for shares, I got about six. It’s hard for people who aren’t touched by it to share with people who are even further removed.

Comment: Can we set up a network within NYC? When you call an 800 support line, you could get someone anywhere. There’s something about talking to someone that knows this place; lives here and understands what it’s like to be a veteran or family member IN NYC.

Kristen: We need equal balance of successes.

Comment:  Need to pick an issue and then show a success.

Kristen: What do we ask for, though? We can’t just say we want more funding; we have to say, “here are the outcomes we want and here’s how we should pay for it.”

Comment:  Everything has to be localized. What does the city have the authority to change?

Comment: Working on something for disabled vets with their own business. Policy in 2003, zoning off what’s labeled a disabled veteran. Connecting Mayor’s Office with “7 On Your Side” to make this go away.

Kristen: How do we articulate this within the vision?

Comment: We’re falling in to a trap. Can’t get the group to narrow it down to one thing. Everyone has a different interest and a different take. Kristen and her leadership need to prioritize the issues and identify what issues the Alliance can solve with the resources they have.

Comment:  How many topics do you want to start with? Suicide, unfortunately, is a hot button issue. We could start there. IAVA has a hotline. We have to prioritize. What can we attack before the end of December?

Kristen: Is that something I can do in a survey? We only ranked what I came up with. Is everyone ok with me putting out a survey and trying to find some buckets?

Comment:  Decals for food carts. State legislation has never been changed. Something ongoing; NYC doesn’t want to change it or engage in it. Would like to have that be on the survey.

Comment: Inclusion of all veterans. Any veteran is allowed to vend in the street. Speaks of merchandise but does include food vending. After it was awarded to vets in 1894, everyone started to join the bandwagon. Even at the street vendors’ project, there’s a concentration on the immigrant population that wants to vend, but they want to leave out the veterans that have the RIGHT to vend.

Comment:  Put in proposal to include the specialized permits for disabled veterans. Know there’s not as much traffic in the winter. Only 136 vets operating with these permits.

Comment:  Working with another veteran organization, mostly street vendors, trying to get their voices heard within this. if they were to lift the caps, what about vets who have been doing this since 1894.

Comment:  To best do what we want to do is outreach. Not just to veterans but to veteran organizations and places with vets. VA Hospitals, Rikers Island, Homeless Shelters. Get more information from people there on what they want to hear.


Next Steps - Kristen

Aggregate information and present back in the form of a survey. Try to find ways to organize this as priorities. Not to say it’s the order, but these are the priorities we want to set the agenda with. It’s not everything we’re going to do ever. Get to a generalized consensus on what this organization is about on an advocacy standpoint.

Get people up to testify on these issues.

Interact with Kristen, reply to her emails. And please be patient!