Chairman Ulrich and Distinguished Members of the Committee:
On behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), I would like to extend our gratitude for being given the opportunity to share with you our views and recommendations regarding the New York City Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) and policy recommendations for New York City. Serving our veterans in New York City is a top priority for IAVA, and it’s a critically important issue that affects the lives of tens of thousands of service members and veterans.
With over 200,000 veterans estimated to be living in New York City, 3,500 of those are IAVA members and the role of the city’s government, including the Veteran Advisory Board, is crucial to the implementation and development of benefits and services that will directly improve the lives of veterans and their families. Additionally, with new leadership at the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) and an emerging drive to establish a new city department specifically for veterans’ affairs, New York City is in a unique position to become a municipal leader on veterans’ issues. As the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) supports a revitalized VAB for New York City and its veterans. We have included in our written testimony (exhibit A) comprehensive policy recommendations for New York City and its veterans to include; Combating Suicide and Supporting Mental Health Initiatives, Strengthening NYC Government for Today’s Veterans, Defending Military and Veteran Education Benefits, Employing the New Greatest Generation, and Strengthening Support for Veterans and Their Families. We will further distribute these recommendations through the VAB at their next meeting.
Unfortunately, many veterans in New York City are not aware of the Veterans Advisory Board and the role it plays within city government. For our members who are aware of the group, many believe that historically it has not been taken seriously and that it has not had the impact on the lives of veterans and their families that it should. Others believe there is a generational gap on the board and that student veterans are not fairly represented.
Despite the historical challenges of the Veteran Advisory Board, we believe there is an opportunity to revitalize the initiative and accurately represent veterans in New York City through the following recommendations:
- Publicly record and publish meeting minutes to increase transparency and communication;
- Ensure that members are actively participating and for those who become regularly inactive ask that they step down from their position;
- Better represent the large number of student veterans in the city; and
- Include more veterans and representatives from non-standard veterans organization.
It is important to recognize the effort the Veterans Advisory Board and the New York City Council have made to engage veterans in New York City and to address issues critical to the community, but there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. Revitalizing the VAB, combating suicide and supporting mental health initiatives, strengthening NYC Government for today’s veterans, defending military and veteran education benefits, employing the new greatest generation, and strengthening support for veterans and their families requires a comprehensive approach. And while there is no illusion that the VAB will solve all the problems our community faces, we believe there is an opportunity to revitalize the VAB to create a significant and positive impact in the lives of veterans and their families.
Again, we appreciate the opportunity to offer our views on this important topic, and we look forward to continuing to work with each of you, your staff, and this Committee to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
Thank you for your time and attention.