On Monday, members of the NYC Veterans Alliance convened at Civic Hall to workshop and discuss policy issues and solutions. We were joined by Commissioner Loree Sutton of the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs and members of the Civic Hall community.
Below is a letter from Samuel Innocent, Director of Policy, to the members of the NYC veteran alliance breaking down the magic that occurred Monday night and to share the results:
I want to begin by sharing my sincere gratitude for what occurred last Monday night from my point of view. I saw 40+ people who believed in the movement of making NYC a better place for veterans, come together and share thoughts about just what that would entail. Those thoughts then turned into action items in which committees then formed around to continue the work of making it tangible. This is why I thank you, to see people from all walks of life come together to make a difference is something special and momentous, it’s also something that should happen more often.
This workshop was designed to bring veterans together to collectively think about solutions to problem that NYC veterans face. The three main focus areas for the workshop were derived from the survey put out by the NYC veteran Alliance to the community.
The Goal of the workshop was to collectively begin a thought process around how we could go about solving some of the issue areas of the survey through the wok of committees willing to take on the challenge.
We split the crowd into three groups that were based upon the subject areas that survey respondents thought were the most critical of the 10 subject areas announced.
In the 4-step process that served as a guide for the workshop we laid out the problem in step 1.
In step-2 we spoke of past solutions that the city has applied to said problem.
Step 3 was to brainstorm possible solutions to address the problem
Step 4 was to backwards plan on how we could get to that solution through policy and committee work.
1) Problem. Affordable housing isn’t uniquely a veteran issue but it is one that has plagued the veteran community. Though veterans only represent approximately 11% of the population, they are nevertheless 26% of the homeless population. Preventing homelessness, and providing affordable housing opportunities for newly returned veterans and struggling veterans, are essential to equitable housing policy in NYC.
2) Past Solutions. NYC and other municipalities have applied different types of solutions in the past to address the problem of affordable housing for veterans:
NYC – Peter Cooper Village (Stuyvesant Town) was planned out before the end of WW2 and gave priority to veterans and their families for permanent, affordable housing.
Long Island – Liberty Village, located in Amityville, was a former armed forces reserve center but is now the home to 60 units that house previously homeless veterans. It opened in 2014.
Washington, DC. The former Walter Reed Army Medical Center is currently in negotiation to include supportive housing for veterans.
3) Possible Solutions
In Building the new DVS have a division of housing services that would be responsible for coordinating all housing programs that are veteran specific in New York City. This division would be the one-stop resource center for homeless veterans and veterans looking for better housing conditions period.
4) Road Map to Solution
This Division would be responsible for maintaining the portion of the DVS webpage that will contain information on types of housing assistance and actual applications for different programs that are available.
The division would also have two caseworkers that have a thorough working knowledge of veteran homeless programs in New York City and would be able to provide assistance in emergency cases that could not be referred out immediately.
This division would also provide bi-annual training to interested parties in the cities on programs that are available to veterans , requirements of these programs and the standards to which the living conditions of apartments should be.
EMPLOYMENT & CAREER DEVELOPMENT
1) Problem. While their peers were in school or climbing the career ladder, veterans were busy serving our country and learning the leadership and life skills that make them ideal potential leaders, technical experts, and stalwart pillars of the NYC workforce. It’s just a matter of connecting them with the right opportunities in a tight labor market. Yet too many veterans remain unemployed or under-employed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the current unemployment rate amongst veterans is 3.9 percent, down from 6.9 percent 2 years ago—but in NYC we have much work to do.
2) Past Solutions.
Workforce one centers with veteran specific programming and counselors.
100,000 Jobs initiative.
3) Possible Solutions
Identify Separating service members sooner and provide better translation for military training into workforce skills in Civilian life.
4) Roadmap to Solution
Devise a solid plan which allows Municipalities to identify service members who are separating at a much earlier point in time.
Get information that will help them in their transition at this established early date.
Allow veterans to use preference points in civil service exams and in applying for City Jobs.
A central system for vetting job fairs that produce hires vs those that don’t (*cough*,pathfinder)
Have more interagency communication between the city departments to better address the standards for ensuring reserve/guard members have their job upon returning from deployments. (Have the veteran liaisons in the agency Identify themselves in a very public manner i.e. website, welcome packet, agency newsletter).
MENTAL HEALTH & SUICIDE PREVENTION
1) Problem. The care and well being of service members returning from years of service should be a focal point of the areas in which they choose to call home. There are a number of different reasons why but the fact that the veteran suicide rate outpaces the rate of death in war is not concerning, it’s an outright catastrophe. Though veterans only represent 11% of the population they are 26% of the deaths by suicide.
2) Past Solutions.
Creation of veteran Crisis line hotline.
Studies that support research of the causes behind PTSD
Funding to support mental health initiatives for veterans
3) Possible Solutions.
Reshape the Public Messaging around PTSD so that we can begin the process of removing stigmatism and help service member seek help with any problems they may be having.
Having a centralized location of where veterans in NYC can receive information about where the best mental health resources are for veterans.
Create a better tracking system for veterans returning from service and offer them resources preemptively.
4) Roadmap to Solutions.
Overview of existing services in one location
Telemedicine to give service members who are not willing to travel the care they seek.
Link 311 to the national service help line.
Make alternative medicine billable to the VA choice program.
Expand the veteran choice program in New York City
Addition of PTSD to the medical marijuana treatment list
Reduce Stigma by incorporating mental health into the overall healthcare system for veterans who are recently separated.
Provide veteran cultural competency in the world of mental health and hygiene
The Committees that formed around these subject areas will receive an email from myself connecting all the members of that group to facilitate the conversation. I will also send out information regarding current legislation that may solve some of the problem areas brought up in the workshop. The Committees should look to meet sometime mid-January to further these ideas and begin to draft legislation proposal.