New York City has established its first Department of Veterans Services and abolished the existing mayor’s office of veterans affairs in an effort to enhance the city’s support for military veterans.
Legislation signed last week by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is designed to increase financial support for the agency by creating an independent department that is subject to oversight by the city council, reported Capital New York.
“Part of the systemic problem that has plagued [the mayor’s office of veterans affairs] over the last four administrations, quite frankly both Democrats and Republicans, is that the funding mechanism is always at the mercy of the mayor,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich. “The council had no ability or oversight or formally in the budget process to do anything about that,” he said.
The mayor had asked the council to significantly increase funding for the office for fiscal 2015, but Ulrich believed the council needed to play a larger role.
“The problem, of course, becomes what happens eight years from now when none of us are in public office anymore, and the next mayor says veterans are not a priority?” Ulrich said.
De Blasio initially resisted the proposal to create an independent department, but offered his support following discussions with the council about how the new agency would operate.
“As I experienced it more and more, I saw what the advantages would be of having a department. In the end, I believe this will be very good for this city and it will allow us to further focus on the needs of veterans,” the mayor said.
In the past, the city has faced criticism from veterans advocates that is has not proactively addressing issues facing veterans, including homelessness, rising rates of suicide and unemployment, according to the story.