City department of veterans created

By Gabriel Rom

A bill to create a city Department of Veterans Services passed Tuesday, the day before Veterans Day.

“This agency will be a one-stop shop for the city’s large and diverse veterans’ community,’ said Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), the bill’s sponsor and chief advocate, and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a joint statement. “We believe that by elevating the Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) to the department level, the city will be in a better position to deliver more resources and services to veterans throughout the five boroughs,” they added.

“There was such a need for this new department,” said Joe Bello, president of the veteran advocacy group MetroVets. “We just felt like with the new wars and veterans coming home and others getting older, they all needed a centralized place where they could find services and get help.”

Ulrich introduced the bill in April 2014, along with three resolutions advocating for state and federal legislation that he said would benefit both veterans and active-duty soldiers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Loree Sutton, the city’s Veterans Affairs commissioner, also threw their support behind the legislation. The mayor oversees MOVA, but the new department will be able to expand the city’s ability to serve local veterans.

“We share the Council’s goal of helping our veterans and their families access the services and support they need and deserve in their return to civilian life,” de Blasio and Sutton added in their own joint statement. “This is why we pledged to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year, committed to expanding job opportunities for our veteran community and increased funding for veteran services this year.”

Over the past year, Ulrich has built a coalition of veterans and advocates from throughout the five boroughs, holding hearings on the legislation while working through stiff opposition from the mayor’s office. Speaking before the Tuesday vote, Ulrich discussed the de Blasio administration’s prior opposition.

“I think the concerns they had in the past were involving the fact they believe this agency might be more symbolic than substantive,” Ulrich said. “Clearly with what the Council has outlined, that is not the case.”

De Blasio’s support for the bill comes as something of a turnaround from his earlier position.

“I’ve never been convinced that turning an office into a department, in any subject matter, is necessarily the way to get things done best,” de Blasio told reporters in January when asked about Ulrich’s proposal.

All veteran-related matters in the city are handled through the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, which is led by Commissioner Loree Sutton, and relies heavily on coordinating with other city agencies to address issues of homelessness, mental health, and unemployment in the city’s veteran population.

More than 225,000 veterans who served the nation from World War II to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan live in New York City. Many of them, Ulrich and Mark-Viverito noted, face a variety of social and economic challenges, from rising homelessness to securing good-paying jobs or even simply transitioning back to civilian life after serving in combat.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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