Veterans to NYC Mayoral Candidates: Fight for Us

Veterans to NYC Mayoral Candidates: Fight for Us

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Veterans to NYC Mayoral Candidates: Fight for Us

In Sunday op-ed, IAVA CEO and Founder urges candidates to address critical veterans issues 

NEW YORK (October 7, 2013) –Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is calling on New York’s mayoral candidates to fight for them and finally address critical issues facing the veterans community. In an op-ed published Sunday in the New York Daily News, IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff highlighted the lack of discussion of issues critical to veterans, including the large VA disability claims backlog, high unemployment, and health care. New York is home to more than 200,000 veterans, one of the largest communities in the United States. Yet, neither major candidate has focused on veterans issues during the campaign.

“New York’s veterans are not a charity, we’re an investment. And we deserve a mayor who appreciates that,” Rieckhoff, a New York Army National Guard Iraq Veteran, wrote in the op-ed. “Over the next few months, we’ll see Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio fight over just about everything. It’s now time to hear how they’re going to fight for our veterans.”

The full op-ed is below:

Running for mayor of New York is a bruising, exhausting, sometimes humiliating process. Unfortunately, for more than 200,000 veterans in the City, so is filing for disability compensation at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

New York City is home to a shamefully large backlog of disability claims — one of the worst in America. More than 6,000 claims are currently “backlogged” (pending for more than 125 days) and the average completion time is an abysmal 495 days. The federal government’s efforts to fix the problem have been painfully slow.

Yet we never heard about this during the primaries. Neither of the top nominees outlined how they would help end the backlog or otherwise improve services to those who have served their country. Only Speaker Christine Quinn presented a veterans platform.

The shameful VA backlog isn’t the only issue affecting veterans and military families in our city. The unemployment for vets is 6% in New York State, and 9.2% for post-9/11 vets. Too many are in prison. Thousands are homeless. And nationwide, 22 veterans (among vets of all ages) commit suicide every day.

After Hurricane Sandy, the VA hospital in Manhattan was under water and shut down for months. All winter, veterans who used the hospital — many of whom served in World War II — were forced to travel into Brooklyn and the Bronx to receive the crucial services and treatment they earned. The facility only returned to full capacity in July and is frequently the subject of closing rumors.

More than 10,000 National Guardsmen live and serve in New York State. We are the ones who stand guard late at night in Grand Central and Penn Station, on Thanksgiving at the airports, and in the cold at our bridges and tunnels. We need to hear how the candidates would ensure we are properly utilized and protected as part of plans to keep our city safe.

And now, veterans are being hurt by the government shutdown. Those who transitioned to work for the federal government are being furloughed, progress has been halted on the VA backlog, and folks receiving disability and GI Bill benefits don’t know if they’ll get their next check.

But it’s not all bad news.

More than 17,000 veterans in the state currently use the post-9/11 GI Bill. Tens of thousands have graduated using the benefits. Schools like CUNY and Columbia have led the nation in recruiting young veterans and creating best-in-class support programs. And last year, Columbia finally brought ROTC back to campus.

Innovative Veterans Treatment Courts launched in Brooklyn and Queens. The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum sits proudly on the West Side as a globally-recognized model for education and remembrance. And this November, New York City will again host the largest Veterans Day Parade in America.

New York businesses and philanthropic groups are leading, too. In 2011, leading Wall Street firms created the groundbreaking Veterans on Wall Street program. The marketing industry again hosted an Advertising Week veterans hiring fair last month. The Robin Hood Foundation invested $13 million in city-based non-profit services and created a model for urban-focused veterans support.

And our group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was founded here and leads a national movement of veteran-led social impact groups that serve not only veterans and our fellow New Yorkers, but all Americans.

But New York City is at a critical crossroads on veterans affairs. Will we support a generation of young leaders who will start businesses, serve in the NYPD and FDNY and teach our children? Or will we again leave a generation to struggle through homelessness, prison and suicide like after Vietnam?

New York can be a globally-recognized model for veterans’ support — a place promising young men and women come to from across America because they want to go to school, start a business, build a family and make a new start. As we saw across the city after Hurricane Sandy hit and in the days after 9/11, when a crisis hits, veterans will be the first ones to help.

New York’s veterans are not a charity, we’re an investment. And we deserve a mayor who appreciates that.

Over the next few months, we’ll see Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio fight over just about everything. It’s now time to hear how they’re going to fight for our veterans.

And for our vote.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. IAVA recently received the highest rating – four-stars – from Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator. 

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