Supporting Veterans' Access to Services

On June 20, 2017, the NYC Council Committee on General Welfare held a hearing on Int. 855-A, which proposes to automate access to services for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. 

Below is the testimony of our Director of Operations:

Good Afternoon, and thank you to Chairman Levin and committee members for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Olivia Meier, and I am here to offer testimony on Introduction 855-A on behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-supported, grassroots policy advocacy and empowerment organization serving veterans, servicemembers, and their families across the New York City metropolitan area.

We applaud and support Council Member Kallos’s bill to improve and streamline access to public assistance for our fellow New Yorkers in need. New York City is a leader in digital innovation in the private sector, and we must marshal the latest advances in technology not just for corporate profit, but for the social good of improving the lives of the most vulnerable among us. It should be as easy to find information and apply for services with city agencies as it is to apply for a job or place an order online to have sushi delivered. It shouldn’t be an exhausting, confusing, frustrating process for a citizen in need to determine their eligibility for food or housing assistance, or to initiate their application. Our fellow New Yorkers who are in need or in crisis should have streamlined, compassionate access to the help they need—not a series of frustrating barriers that too often conceal or limit access to crucial resources for which they are eligible.

My organization has advocated for improved access to resources for veterans of the United States Armed Forces and currently serving members of reserve, National Guard, and state militia forces. Over the years there have been frustrating barriers to these individuals—estimated at some 220,000 across the five boroughs, plus an estimated 250,000 or more spouses and household dependents—being able to access the city, state, and federal benefits and services for which they or their families are eligible. Taken together, approximately 1 in 17 New Yorkers are eligible for city, state, and federal benefits and services provided for veterans and their families. Yet far too many veterans and family members—even those most in need—who do not identify as “veterans” because they served during peacetime or were never called to active status.

When those who have served in the military, and their families, do not self-identify as veterans and seek out the services and benefits for which they are eligible, this represents potentially millions of federal and state dollars that are not reaching families and communities here in New York City that need that money. While much work is being done to create an effective digital portal for accessing veterans’ benefits and services through the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services VetConnectNYC program, this will only serve those who self-identify as veterans.

To ensure streamlined access to services for 1 in 17 New Yorkers who either served in the military or who is a spouse or dependent family member of someone who served, we strongly urge this committee to amend the current bill to include the specification that applicants requesting assistance from HRA be screened for prior service in the U.S. Armed Forces or State Guard or militia, and for whether their spouse or head of household has ever served in the U.S. Armed forces or State Guard or militia. This screening question is key to identifying individuals in need who do not otherwise self-identify as “veterans” because of their perception of their prior military service. Those who screen positive can be effectively referred to resources currently housed within NYC DVS.

On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.