“My name is Paul Rieckhoff. I’m the Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. I’m an Iraq combat vet and 9/11 first responder. My first combat duty began just south of here 14 years ago. My brothers and sisters in arms were united on that fateful day, and we’re united again today.
All generations and organizations are here today. Unified. Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project, NYC Veterans Alliance, NY Metro vets, members of the mayor’s veterans advisory board past and future, and military families representing 200,000 veterans across the 5 Boros.
We are here to ask for help. Mr. Mayor, we need your help. And we need it now.
We have 22 veterans a day dying from suicide. We have an unacceptable level of unemployment and homelessness.
And the VA is still recovering from a total crisis. Over 3,000 claims are backlogged in New York. And it takes an AVERAGE of 225 days just to complete a claim. That’s more than 6 months!
We fought Al-Qaeda after 9/11. We shouldn’t have to fight red tape when we get home.
We fought for this city. We need you to fight for us.
But so far, you haven’t even met with us once since you’ve been in office. Not once. You haven’t even met with you own Veterans Advisory Board! You’ve met with horse carriage drivers. This week, you met voters in Nebraska and Iowa. But you haven’t met with the city’s veterans leaders once!
But it’s not about meetings. It’s about action! And sadly, there’s been none. That’s why when we polled IAVA members across the city this week, 81% said you were failing them. 81%. And 95% felt you weren’t listening to them.
You opposed legislation to expend military pensions. Saying it was too expensive.
You promised us a plan for veterans in 90 days. That was in November.
We don’t even have a city department of veteran affairs. All we have is a pathetic $600,000 budget at the Mayors Office of Veteran Affairs and no real programs.
Now, new Veterans Commissioner Loree Sutton is an outstanding leader. That’s why we recommended you chose her. But she can’t do it alone. You and the City Council must lead.
So we’re here to ask for you to step up and do that now. It’s a simple message. Lead the way. Show us you care. That’s the message you’ll hear from all the speakers today. And everyone here behind me.
We don’t want a fight. We’re all combat veterans. We’ve had enough fighting! And after the last year in this city, I’m sure you have too. So, let’s work together and make NY the best city in the world for veterans.”