Testimony: NYC Agencies Must Report on Senior Veterans

On April 20, 2021, NYC Veterans Alliance provided written testimony for the NYC Council Committees on Aging and Veterans hearing on Introduction 1616-2019, which would require the NYC Department of Veterans' Services (DVS) to report the number of senior veterans DVS serves, as well the number of inquiries received by DVS from veterans regarding social service programs, such as the supplemental nutrition assistance program and the New York State veteran property tax exemption; and affordable housing programs, such as those run through the New York Housing Authority and the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Below is the testimony we provided: 

This testimony is submitted for record. My name is James Fitzgerald and I am the Deputy Director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-driven, grassroots policy advocacy and community-building organization that advances veterans and families as civic leaders. We work with more than 150 community organizations across the NYC Metro area to promote events for veterans and families posted online at OurVeterans.NYC, our year-round online resource hub visited by more than 4,000 users each month. We also remain the only organization dedicated to local-level advocacy for veterans and families here in NYC. The NYC Veterans Alliance was a key advocate for the creation of the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to support our city’s population of 210,000 veterans, plus an estimated 250,000 caregivers and family members connected with those veterans. We further provided the advocacy initiative to introduce and pass Local Law 119-2017, which added veteran and military status to NYC’s Human Rights Law. Since 2015, we have offered an independent, impartial voice advocating for the NYC veterans community.

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, NYC Veterans Alliance has mobilized a Veteran Mutual Aid program to address the direct needs of the NYC-metro veteran community. Empowering a volunteer team of NYC veterans, we have successfully provided assistance and information to hundreds of veteran families throughout the five boroughs, including food assistance, housing support, financial assistance, VA benefits help, and regular check-in calls. We have received client referrals from both NYC DVS and the NYS Division of Veterans’ Services when client needs have exceeded the scope of the services they provide. Our current client load is more than 200 veteran families who receive routine check-ins and assistance with referrals and accessing resources. This direct outreach is in addition to the more than eight thousand email subscribers who look to us for critical community information on a weekly basis.

The clients who have reached out to our Veterans Mutual Aid program for help have ranged in age from 18 to 96 years old, with approximately 40% of our clients being over the age of 50. Tracking and reporting of age demographics is absolutely critical to understanding the needs of our communities and how government must improve the delivery of services. Seniors have been chronically underserved, and as delivery of government services has moved to digital platforms, too many seniors have been left out by not having the ability or the means to access them. Identifying whether our senior veterans are able to access city services is absolutely essential to the function of government. It is equally important to nonprofits that are seeking better information on how to tailor their services to ensure our communities provide the support they need.

We fully support Int. 1616-2019 and any subsequent measures to improve the clarity and transparency of data that DVS and other NYC agencies report on an annual or ongoing basis. Since 2015, we have consistently offered testimonies on the shortcomings of data reported by NYC government. All NYC agencies must continue improving its reporting to provide granular demographic data and metrics on all protected classes within the NYC Human Rights Law—to include prior military service. Government services and community organizations alike should be able to look to government data to pinpoint the intersectionality of needs so we can work with a shared understanding of where specific needs must be addressed across the five boroughs. Age is a basic demographic category that must be consistently reported. We urge the committees to pass this Introduction without delay, and to examine further opportunities to ensure DVS and other agencies provide consistent reporting of appropriate data.

This concludes our testimony. We would be glad to discuss this further with the Committees.