On November 26th, 2018, our Director of Policy & Legislative Advocacy, Sam Molik, testified before the NYC Council Committees on Veterans in a hearing on Introductions 1218 and 479, which propose to create a discharge upgrade assistance unit at the Department of Veterans’ Services and offer discharge upgrade assistance and extending city veteran benefits to service members who were discharged because of their LGBTQ status.
Below is his testimony:
Good afternoon and thank you to the Chair and the Committee for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Samuel Molik and I am the Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy for the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-driven, grassroots policy advocacy and community-building organization that advances veterans and their families as civic leaders.
On behalf of our members and supporters, we state our firm support for veterans with “bad paper” discharges to receive critical services, particularly those veterans unjustly discharged because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity, or because of untreated traumas from the battlefield or from sexual assault within the ranks. For this reason, we applaud the intent of this Committee in addressing bad paper discharges and seeking to right the wrongs of federal bureaucracy. We do not, however, support the expansion of the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services to duplicate the expert legal services already at work in in the nonprofit sector.
The NYC Veterans Alliance testified before this Committee in December 2015 in favor of two resolutions in support of state and federal legislation to restore honor and benefits for veterans unjustly discharged from the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and prior policies based in bigotry against LGBT individuals. The NYC Veterans Alliance also brought to hearing Resolution 1196 in October 2016, which we proposed to this Committee, in support of federal legislation bringing fair policies to the federal discharge review board process. Though none of these resolutions passed this Committee, nor did the corresponding state and federal legislation pass—we bring to this Committee’s attention that some measure of progress has been made toward permitting veterans discharged with bad paper to receive potentially lifesaving services from the VA.
Although we remain fully committed to justice for veterans who were wrongly discharged and fairness in the discharge review board process, we urge members of this Committee to review transcripts of these prior hearings. What prior testimonies by the Veterans Advocacy Project, American Veterans for Equal Rights, High Ground Veterans Advocacy, Vietnam Veterans of America, and others have made clear before this Committee is the complexity and longevity of the discharge upgrade process, and the expert legal services involved in advancing these cases over the course of months and years. If DVS is required to create a standing unit dedicated to discharge upgrades, it will most certainly deplete the agency of considerable resources not provided in its current staffing and budget. We believe the effects of this legislation would be detrimental to DVS in carrying out its mission and mandate. For these reasons, we urge this Committee to table Intro 1218.
Yet support for veterans with bad paper remains urgently needed; as we have testified previously, these veterans are the most likely to experience homelessness, substance abuse, incarceration, and are the highest risk for suicide. We support the intent of Intro. 479 to ensure all city services for veterans are available to those unjustly discharged. We urge this Committee to revise Intro. 479 to be more broadly inclusive, ensuring that veterans discharged as a result of untreated traumas, including sexual assault, incurred during military service, also receive the benefits accorded in this bill. Exclusion of any category of wrongly discharged veterans would merely repeat the historic wrongs of federal policy. We further recommend Intro. 479 be amended to permit DVS to accomplish a cursory review of service records during the course of its current processes for aiding veterans and linking them with legal services available through the VetConnectNYC network.
To offer impactful support to wrongly discharged veterans, we urge this Committee to seek to strengthen and support the robust network of service providers who offer services and support to veterans with bad paper discharges. Instead of saddling a small agency with additional mandates, we urge the Council to offer a larger share of support in discretionary funding for service providers who already have the expertise and institutional knowledge needed to navigate the complexities of the discharge upgrade process. We also urge the Council to offer further support for mental health services, housing services, employments services, and other essential support for veterans with bad paper discharges.
On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.