In February 2015, following the start of this survey, the City Council passed legislation to mandate the tracking and reporting of veterans served by NYC agencies. Shortly thereafter, the bill was signed as Local Law 23. Strong support by survey respondents for this initiative was noted at the time the bill was under consideration. A total of 87.47% of respondents indicated this initiative was either essential or very important to them.
Testimony on Tracking and Reporting of Veterans Receiving NYC Services. At the February 2015 City Council hearing on mandating certain NYC agencies to track and report annually the number of veterans served, the NYC Veterans Alliance testified in favor of the bill, citing the strong support indicated by survey respondents at that point in time. Our recommendations included:
- The tracking and reporting requirement should apply to ALL city agencies, to include DOHMH and HHC.
- The definition of “veteran” for these purposes should be changed to “any individual who served in the military, regardless of discharge status” in order to first assume an individual is a veteran, then determine eligibility for veterans services and benefits thereafter.
Passage of Local Law 23. These recommendations were not included in the final legislation, which was signed into law in late February 2015. The agencies included in the tracking legislation are: NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA); NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA); NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH); and the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). These agencies will effectively track veterans involved in: Mitchell Lama housing applications, vending licenses, HUD-VASH vouchers, city procurement, and city employees. Veterans who rely on the safety net of the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA) are not included, thereby omitting important information on how often veterans in crisis need “one-shot” deals (rental, storage, or utilities arrears assistance), or public assistance such as emergency cash, food stamps, and other vital services. Further, the legislation does not track some of the most vulnerable veterans—namely, those who must rely on HRA because they are not eligible for VA benefits due to “bad paper” discharge status. Passage of this law represents progress, albeit imperfect progress.
NYC Services Provided to Veterans. NYC agencies provide critical services to veterans, including: support for veterans employed by NYC agencies; job placement for veterans within the civilian workforce; outreach and support for homeless veterans; medical and mental health services at HHC medical facilities and DOHMH outpatient clinics; assistance with housing by HPD and NYCHA; and other services. As introduced, Local Law 23 proposed to track many of these essential life lines to veterans. As of the release of this report, NYC does not have comprehensive data on how many veterans use its infrastructure and resources, and thus NYC officials cannot accurately gauge the need for veterans services. This would be particularly useful information as the city assesses and further develops funding and programs for public housing and mental and behavioral health services.
“Bad Paper” and NYC Services. Veterans who were discharged with “bad paper” (other than honorable, bad conduct or dishonorable discharges) are for the most part ineligible for VA services and benefits. These veterans face barriers to employment, are less likely to receive health care for mental health issues related to their service, and have a suicide rate three times as high as other veterans. In the absence of available federal (VA) resources, these veterans are likely to turn to NY State or NYC social and medical services offered to all low-income and homeless New Yorkers. Tracking NYC services provided to veterans ineligible for VA services would provide critical long-term data on what needs these veterans have after leaving the military, as well as identify areas where NYC government could request that the VA grant funding or expanded eligibility for these veterans in need.
Respondent Comment. One comment was offered by a respondent on this subject:
- I would like to explore the accountability of the NYC Department of Health/Mental Hygiene, as well as New York State OASAAS and OMH, with regards to the number of veterans served, what services agencies under their purview are providing veterans, and how they monitor the quality of veteran services provided.
Recommendations. NYC government should maintain a full accounting of city services provided to all veterans regardless of discharge status. Comprehensive data is essential to policy and planning proposals, and it is something we do not currently have. We therefore make the following recommendations:
- Veterans with less than fully honorable (“bad paper”) discharges should be tracked and reported by NYC agencies providing services to them. It is vital to track veterans ineligible for VA services and benefits in order to quantify both the human and financial costs of bad discharges. With this information, the NYC government could utilize this data to petition federal officials for financial assistance and/or expanded eligibility for these individuals.
- All NYC agencies should take a coordinated approach to tracking and reporting on the veterans they serve. This must include a validation process to ensure the same veterans and family members aren’t counted twice for receiving similar services. This tracking should also include recommendations for future synchronization of NYC services for veterans.
 See pages 19-25 of this report for information on how “bad paper” especially affects homeless veterans.