This week in NYC we are under the first curfew imposed on the city since the rioting in Harlem in August 1943 following the shooting of a Black soldier. As veterans, we believe the story of 1943 should be told.
In November 1942, Private David Wood, assigned to the 9th Engineer Regiment at Fort Dix, New Jersey, was shot in his stomach by a police officer while he waited for tickets at a movie theater. Violence and discrimination against Black troops serving during World War II was pervasive not only in the South, but nationwide. Black veterans of World War I, especially those who served grueling months fighting on the front lines in Europe as Harlem Hellfighters, remembered clearly the discrimination and hatred they faced both during their service and upon their return home. The murder of Private Wood by a white policeman marked the tenth murder of a Black soldier since Pearl Harbor.
America had seen decades of racial violence and rioting, and 1943 was especially violent. On June 15, 1943, thousands of white residents of Beaumont, Texas, destroyed and looted black businesses and homes over two days when a white woman stated that a black man had raped her, although no assailant was never identified. On June 20, 1943, Detroit erupted in racial violence as white aggression over racially integrated factory labor fomented a night of violence and retaliation, in which 17 Black residents were killed by police. The summer of 1943 was one in which Black communities across the country were tense and on edge as their young men were recruited to fight overseas and whole communities served in the broader war effort at home, despite the discrimination and violence they were forced to suffer.
Veterans in NYC and across the Metro area are being left in need as the city shuts down non-essential services and COVID-19 cases rise. On March 19-21, NYC Veterans Alliance asked veterans and family members for their input in an online survey on how the COVID-19 emergency was affecting them, and if they needed immediate help.
Veterans of all eras expressed a high level of concern that they will get sick, and that nearly 70% of these veterans have toxic exposures from their military service--like burn pits, Agent Orange, and 9/11 debris--placing them at greater risk for respiratory illnesses.
A report detailing these findings is HERE.
"We got a flood of requests for immediate needs from veterans when we started the survey, and it hasn't stopped," said James Fitzgerald, an Army veteran who leads NYC Veterans Alliance. "Veterans needed help with buying groceries. Elderly veterans told us they live alone and had no one to call if they got sick. A homeless veteran told us he was being forced out on the street, and government services weren't available to help. We're the only ones checking in on so many of these folks," said Fitzgerald.
To manage these overwhelming community needs, NYC Veterans Alliance is launching Veterans Mutual Aid - NYC Metro, a network for intake and coordination of incoming requests from veterans and family members in need. NYC Veterans Alliance staff and volunteers are currently managing requests, and veterans organizations are joining in to create a network of veterans and families helping veterans and families across the metro area. The aid this network will provide ranges from regular check-ins with isolated veterans to helping veterans find safe housing and assistance to make it through the pandemic.
On January 21, 2020, Deputy Director James Fitzgerald testified before the annual NYC Council hearing on oversight of the Department of Veterans' Services--the most important hearing of the year for the Committee on Veterans. With the recent release of Mayor de Blasio's Preliminary Budget, funding for DVS is proposed to increase. But the oversight hearing itself was sparsely attended by Veterans Committee members, who left their seats mostly vacant during the majority of the hearing, the exception being veteran spouse Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who remained engaged with substantive questions. Committee Chair Chaim Deutsch, who announced his candidacy for another elected office that day, was not present for the full hearing.
Below is the testimony delivered by Deputy Director Fitzgerald:
Because of advocates (including us!), NYC in December 2015 created an independent, fully-funded agency, now known as the NYC Department of Veterans' Services (NYC-DVS), to serve our city's approximate population of 210,000 veterans, plus an estimated additional 250,000 caregivers and family members who are also impacted by whether these veterans are able to fully access the benefits and services they have rightfully earned. Separately, the NYC Council manages discretionary funding for purposes that include services to veterans and their families. Both of these sources of city funding and support are detailed below.
NYC-DVS BUDGET SINCE FY 2017
Our membership has consistently prioritized accountability of city tax dollars used to serve our veterans community, even as we have consistently advocated for increased resources and growth of NYC-DVS. It takes years of hard work to transform a city government that previously did little in recent decades to reach and serve veterans and families into one that prioritizes, connects, and makes substantive impacts for our community. The table below shows the expansion of NYC-DVS since its creation:
||Authorized FT Employees
||Actual FT Employees
||not yet available
||not yet available
Notes on the table above:
- NYC's fiscal year runs from July to June; the first fiscal year for NYC-DVS was 2017 (beginning July 1, 2016).
- "Adopted Budget" refers to the budget as passed, and reflected in a unique column in city budget documents which can be found HERE. This amount differs from subsequent modifications and actual expenditures.
- "Actual Expenditures" are as reflected by the NYC Independent Budget Office which can be found HERE.
- "Authorized Full-Time (FT) Employees" refers to the number of full-time employees included in the Adopted Budget. This is not the same number as later modifications or actual employee count.
- "Actual Full-Time (FT) Employees" refers to the actual year-end employee headcount reflected by the NYC Independent Budget Office which can be found HERE.
A veteran recalls "88" spray-painted on his Staten Island synagogue--a message of anti-Jewish hate that has been on the rise in NYC and nationally in recent months. This year NYC has seen an 82% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes. Why "88" in particular? H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and the number "88" has been appropriated by violent white supremacists as shorthand for "Heil Hitler."
Recently Staten Island veteran Charles Greinsky pointed out that the proposed 3-digit calling code for the national suicide prevention hotline reminded him of the message of hate spray-painted on his synagogue: 988. He is calling on Congress and the FCC to change the digits to something else.
We concur. No one should be thinking of messages of violent hate when talking about, reading about, or calling in for suicide prevention resources. The number can and must be changed to another number.
At last! The Fair Fares program will soon be extended to include qualifying student veterans, to finally fulfill a promise included in the NYC budget announced in June 2018. The measure was originally mandated to go into effect on January 1, 2019, to provide half-price MetroCards for more than 12,000 veterans enrolled in NYC colleges. Following months of delay, we have learned from the city that this will at last be implemented as follows:
NYC's Fiscal Year 2020 budget has #NoCutsforVets! Thanks to the sustained advocacy of our members and community partners, the newly released budget for NYC's Department of Veterans' Services (DVS) is increased by $77,500 rather than cut, as had been proposed by Mayor de Blasio in January and again in April of this year. This will fund our city's newest independent agency with a budget of $5.3 million in FY 2020 and keep it on track for continued growth, outreach, and impacts on the lives of veterans and their families. Please contact DVS at 212-416-5250 with your questions or to get help for yourself or a veteran you know. Veterans and family members can also request help through the city's online service network, VetConnectNYC.
UPDATE: This legislation has been passed (Intro 1047-2018 Version A) as of May 29, 2019. It is awaiting signature by the Mayor. Thanks to all who stood with us on this important local measure!
Last July, we stood with Public Advocate Tish James as she introduced a bill to the NYC Council to ensure city government provides support to student veterans and holds exploitive for-profit colleges accountable if they fail to deliver quality education to veterans using their GI Bill educational benefits. Video of that press conference is HERE and our statement of support for the bill's introduction is HERE.
On December 13, 2018, that bill at last was brought to a joint hearing of the Council's Committees on Veterans and Higher Education. Director of Policy & Legislative Advocacy Sam Molik delivered testimony on behalf of the Alliance. His testimony is below:
Today, the NYC Veterans Alliance responded to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign meeting with veterans in Nevada, asserting that he has never held a similar meeting with NYC veterans during his administration, and further noting that his current Executive Budget proposes to cut $118,000 from services for veterans and families.
In March, NYC Veterans Alliance members and community partners, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Veterans Advocacy Project, rallied with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Members Kallos and Gjonaj expressing outrage against proposed cuts to veterans’ services in both city and state budgets. The NYC Veterans Alliance has pressed numerous Council Members to ensure NYC prioritizes funding for the services it provides to veterans and families across the five boroughs.