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Andrew Yang's Plan to Invest in our City's Veterans
Supporting and empowering those who have served our country is a fundamental duty. New York City is home to hundreds of thousands of veterans. Andrew understands his obligation to these veterans—and also the potential they have to help lead our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the future of NYC. Veterans driven to accomplish missions: they are more likely to start businesses than non-veterans and more likely to use training incentives provided to them. Veterans are dedicated to service: they work longer hours, earn a higher income per given education level, and are more likely to work for federal, state, and local governments. In short, veterans are vital to the wellbeing of our City.
Despite these enormous contributions, an astounding 10.1% of veterans in New York City live below the poverty line. In 2016, the approximate median income for veterans living in NYC was just above $35,000. This poverty rate renders NYC’s veterans vulnerable to economic shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic. Although NYC has made progress in reducing veteran homelessness in the past decade, the issue is persistent and has likely worsened due to the pandemic. From 2011-2016, the population of homeless veterans decreased from 4,677 to 559, but estimates from 2019 show there were nearly 700 sheltered veterans.
Providing for the mental health of our city’s veterans is crucial. Prior to the pandemic, veterans in New York State were 8 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder and 2-4 times more likely to experience major depression than non-veteran individuals. The COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatically negative effects on mental health across our country and has made it more difficult to receive care. Across the U.S., 52% of post-9/11 veterans reported worsened mental health due to COVID-19 restrictions and 51% had a mental health appointment canceled or postponed. And, with encouraging news that the Biden Administration vowing-- and indeed, beginning-- to get troops out of Afghanistan, we must do everything we can to focus on the mental health cost of war. A Yang administration will prioritize investment in a comprehensive slate of social and mental health services to help veterans recover from the pandemic and maximize their important contributions to our city.
We also know that many veterans, particularly those living in nursing homes, experienced severe illness from Covid-19, and many died. A recently-released report from Attorney General Letitia James indicates that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) may have undercounted nursing home Covid deaths by up to 50%, so the reported numbers likely significantly underestimate the number of veteran deaths. Although the New York Senate recently passed a package of ten bills which target many of the report’s findings, the situation for those in nursing homes remains dire, including outstanding questions about the unauthorized use of experimental hydroxychloroquine treatments on veterans in state-run veterans nursing homes and in federally-run VA facilities in the city.
Outrageously, several veterans’ homes ranked among the worst outbreaks in New York State as of February 5, 2021, including:
- The Long Island State Veterans Home, which reported 53 deaths.
- The New York State Veterans Home at St. Albans (Queens), which reported 33 deaths.
- The New York State Veterans Home at Montrose (Westchester), which reported 22 deaths.
A bold, ambitious plan and urgent reforms are needed to assist New York City’s veterans as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, just as important is our goal of building sustained, comprehensive investment in our veterans and their wellbeing. Andrew Yang understands that veterans are not a charity and that their needs have too long been an afterthought. Rather we intend to put resources into the hands of people we know will use them to help others. Investment in our veterans is an investment in the future of our City.
Policy Priorities to Invest in Our Veterans
Andrew Yang will lead a transformative strategy, informed by conversations with key veteran leaders, advocates, experts, attorneys at Veterans Legal Services Clinics, IAVA’s Policy Agenda Report, the New York City Veterans Alliance and others.
Help veterans secure high-paying and meaningful employment.
Andrew Yang appreciates the work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit of our city’s veterans, and is committed to helping them find employment that best utilizes their unique talents. Andrew will encourage more businesses in specialized industries like technology and finance to adopt veterans diversity initiatives. He will also work with local nonprofits and city programs to expand the availability of job training related to specialized industries. This includes expanding and encouraging veteran enrollment at CUNY and directing the city Department of Veterans Services (DVS) to work in partnership with the city Small Business Services (SBS) to offer accelerated job training, resume building, and reskilling for veterans. DVS will also organize a list of job opportunities for veterans to have comprehensive access to what is available in the job market in addition to their training and resource supports. A Yang administration will also work to eliminate illegal hiring discrimination against Reserve and National Guard personnel so that those who serve our country do not have to choose between their service and non-military employment.
He will also make it easier for veterans to start their own businesses, including through business diversity initiatives modeled on successful initiatives adopted by other large cities. Andrew will also amplify local veteran entrepreneurs and support their involvement in mentorship programs related to job training and education, including partnering with CUNY on achieving higher degrees and leveraging the state’s Veterans Tuition Awards program. In particular, recognizing the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) at the federal level was relaunched, Andrew will expand and support job retraining programs for older veterans seeking employment. Yang’s DVS will also seek to encourage mentorship and community-building programs for young veterans, and SBS Workforce1 center’s will continue its work prioritizing veterans and spouses for services.
Ensure that any occupational or professional licenses issued by the city fully credit military training and experience.
A Yang administration will identify opportunities for credit and work with the relevant licensing bodies to develop a crediting procedure as quickly as possible. In 2011, New York State launched an initiative to ensure that veterans’ valuable and specialized military experience is recognized when they transition to civilian work. Other states, such as Connecticut have considered a similar reform, including a number of specific candidate licenses: police officer, security guard, emergency medical technician, fire fighter.
Enhance mental health services in city agencies where veterans are concentrated.
Many veterans’ skills are recognized in federal and municipal jobs. In particular, they often work as first responders. This suits their experience dealing with challenging and stressful situations and their dedication to serve others. However, some of these jobs can present similar stressors to those they may have experienced during their military service, and in the worst cases can expose veterans to cumulative pressure, stress and trauma much as their military service may have. For those within city agencies that need support, a Yang administration will make mental health service providers available within these agencies. For example, about Andrew’s plan to support EMS workers. Andrew will work together with affected veterans to reduce barriers to seeking mental health services. Read about our additional mental health initiatives below.
Advocating for veteran street vendors.
Veteran street vendors have an important history in NYC and vending offers veterans an opportunity to start small businesses. NYC currently reserves 100 of the 2900 citywide food vending permits for veterans and people with disabilities. Based on a law first passed after the Civil War, the City also offers an unlimited number of permits for veterans with any level of VA rated disability along the perimeter of NYC parks. The application fee for permits is also waived for veterans. New York City is currently expanding the number of vending permits, an effort Andrew Yang supports. While implementing this legislation, Andrew Yang will ensure that veteran street venders and veterans who wish to become street venders continue to receive the City’s support.
Implement an equitable licensing regime for legalized cannabis.
With the state legislature’s passage of recreational cannabis, the next mayor will have a major role to play in implementation of the licensing program and righting the historical wrongs of unjust drug enforcement. Andrew Yang has been an ardent supporter of cannabis legalization and will commit to establishing an equitable, fair and profitable legal regime by implementing a bold cannabis policy that creates a strong local economy, while also addressing the disproportionate impact that the failed war on drugs has placed on certain communities. A Yang administration will:
- Direct all law enforcement agencies to stop investigating, arresting, and prosecuting all minor, non-violent cannabis crimes, such as cannabis possession;
- Establish a social equity program that will right the wrongs of the past by providing support to communities of color and low-income communities and creating sustainable opportunities for community members to not only participate, but to compete in the New York cannabis market while creating opportunities to generate meaningful wealth from the New York cannabis industry. This includes setting aside a portion of the total licenses for these groups and veterans (equal to their proportion of the total population) to enter the legal market;
- Institute new reforms that will enable a local cannabis economy to thrive and out-compete the illicit market;
- Treat drug use as a public health matter and not as a criminal matter.
II) Mental Health Support
Commit to improving veteran’s quality of life through fighting veteran homelessness and suicide.
The veteran community suffers significantly higher rates of suicide than most others. A Yang administration will further DVS’ work on mental health services with a city-wide suicide prevention program dedicated towards veterans run by the Department of Veterans Services and funded via the additional $3 million we will commit to the Department. The effort will devote particular attention to expanding educational campaigns and available resources for victims of military sexual trauma. Andrew strongly supports the federal Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and will partner with state and federal advocates to ensure that New York City veterans are supported at all levels of government.
Targeted interventions aimed at reducing homelessness in New York’s veteran population have been incredibly effective. We will expand upon these efforts and expand programs that support veterans, read more about Andrew Yang’s plan to meaningfully reduce homelessness.
A Yang administration will also devote $2 million to fund legal services for veterans in poverty. This will include discharge upgrade and benefits application preparation and appeals, as well as employment and housing discrimination, civil rights cases, and a host of other socially-supportive legal advocacy. We will also advocate for increased federal funding, such as grants from the Veterans Appeals Pro Bono Grant Program, to local nonprofits providing pro bono legal services to veterans
A Yang administration will also fund the creation of veterans medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) at public hospitals with the goal of integrating social, legal, and medical care. Veterans-specific MLPs are important for targeting the unique medical-legal issues that veterans face. For example, veterans should be screened for burn pit and other toxic exposures, such as Agent Orange, which can affect both their long-term health and eligibility for benefits.
Advocate to legalize controlled substances that are used to treat PTSD and facilitate their use in therapeutic settings.
Research has found that cannabis can be an effective tool in treating PTSD symptoms. Andrew Yang will facilitate affordable access to cannabis, including as part of therapeutic settings for treatment of PTSD. He will also encourage information-sharing and cooperative study of effective mental health therapy utilizing cannabis and psilocybin, between the Department of Veterans Affairs, NY Health+Hospitals, local universities and medical professionals. Andrew applauds the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research at Mount Sinai for working to find a more effective treatment for PTSD.
Following the science and federal guidelines, a Yang administration will be ready to increase access to other substances in controlled settings, such as MDMA therapy, which is nearing the third stage of FDA trials. A promising recent study indicated that MDMA was effective in reducing PTSD symptoms with no serious adverse events. Taking its cues from the federal government, a Yang administration will be ready to work with the medical community in implementing these therapies when federal approval has been granted.
III) Leverage City Resources to Honor and Support Veterans
The budget: put our money where our values are.
Since the creation of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services, its funding has been low and subject to budget cuts in tough times. Advocacy groups such as the NYC Veteran’s Alliance have been staunch proponents fighting back against harsh budget cuts, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. We know that a budget is a symbol of our priorities and veterans who have valiantly served our country must be a priority, especially in a city like New York. That is why a Yang administration will commit over $3 million in additional funding for the city’s Department of Veteran’s Services – for a total of $10 million per year – and will refuse to balance the budget on the backs of our heroes. We will also strongly advocate for additional federal money for veterans’ services using Andrew Yang’s strong ties to the Biden White House.
Make the city a better employer to veterans.
Yang will immediately launch a “We Want You” campaign for veterans, encouraging hiring by the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, Emergency Medical Services, city educational institutions, the Department of Corrections, the Metropolitan Transport Authority, and other critical employers. We will set a goal that at least 5% of city employment opportunities and city contracts be awarded to veterans, particularly minority and female veterans.
A Yang administration will encourage service animals, sick leave, dedicated days to honor veterans, educating employers about PTSD and MST, and partnership with unions’ veterans councils to ensure that we are addressing the needs of veterans serving in our city’s workforce.
Likewise, many veterans are service-driven by nature and want to give to their communities. A Yang administration will continue programs that encourage veterans to be mentors and empowerment coaches for younger veterans.
Establish Veterans Hubs to provide social spaces for local veterans.
Andrew is committed to expanding opportunities for our local veterans, particularly young veterans, to socialize with one another, build career networks, and find mentors. A Yang administration will fund the creation of Veterans Hubs throughout New York City to give veterans additional physical space, including exercise equipment and other wellness-focused activities such as yoga, fitness, and nutrition programs. Veterans Hubs will also provide space for job training, co-working spaces, and other educational programs prioritizing veteran-to-veteran instruction and mentorship.
Ensure veterans are honored across our City and their experiences are used to support communities.
A Yang administration will build a post-9/11 veterans memorial in Battery Park, to honor those who fought and died for our country, and our City. We will also identify and honor veterans who have served our City, for example, Mayor David N. Dinkins. Specifically, Yang will ensure that the NYC Veterans Day parade, the largest in the country, is adequately funded. Andrew Yang will also commit resources to support veterans’ landmarks and tourist destinations.
Implement a citywide transition outreach program for recently discharged veterans to help them connect to existing services.
The transition process out of the military is difficult and the majority of service members are discharged without employment. New York City must do everything it can to help connect veterans to employment, housing and other services. We will aggressively advocate for NYC-specific, post-COVID-19 funding from the federal government, and will use this funding to expand educational campaigns about existing services and improve the scope and efficiency of the services themselves. The City of Boston has a program called Operation Thank-a-Vet, where city workers and volunteers canvass neighborhoods and try to meet in person with veterans. They thank them for their service and offer informational resources. A Yang administration will institute a similar program, providing direct on-the-ground outreach to veterans.
We will institute screening for military service across all city programs, including screening at Medicaid enrollment for eligibility for VA health care. Our goal is to create a broad safety net to identify veterans in need and streamline their ability to apply for resources. This will also involve ensuring that veterans living in New York City are connected with the VA. A Yang administration will actively partner with the VA and the Department of Defense on local education and messaging campaigns.
A Yang administration will ensure that all veterans have the opportunity to connect to city-level resources, and that the resources are sufficient to provide for our most vulnerable veterans. In particular, this includes ensuring that elderly and disabled veterans are able to access these services. A Yang administration will streamline and invest in services delivered remotely, including benefits applications and mental health counseling. We will also work with local non-profits to train volunteers and expand staff capabilities to provide in-home services for these veterans, such as grocery deliveries.
Ensure that robust city-level data is collected related to veterans, including homelessness statistics, poverty, Covid-19 and other health information, employment, and immigration.
A Yang administration will partner with the VA and NYS Department of Health to identify at-risk individuals and connect them with services.
Expand municipal pre-trial diversionary programs to expand veteran eligibility.
Pre-trial diversion programs have been shown to be cheaper and more effective than incarceration; one study found that if just 10% of those eligible for diversion were sent to community-based substance abuse treatment programs rather than prison, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion. The definition of “veteran” should extend beyond just those with honorable discharges. All individuals should be screened for veteran status using the open-ended question “Have you ever served in the military?”
New York City has no diversionary program targeted specifically at veterans. In its first 100 days, a Yang administration will advocate for broader eligibility for veterans and the expansion of pre-trial diversionary programs, such as CASES Pretrial Services and other Alternative to Incarceration services. This expansion will be paid for by the cost to the City of incarcerating these veterans – $161 per day per individual. Other states have such veterans-specific diversion programs. For example, Connecticut allows accelerated and psychiatric rehabilitation programs to be used only once by the general population, but twice for veterans.
A Yang administration will also support the expansion of veterans treatment courts aimed at comprehensive rehabilitation. We will advocate for expanded access by veterans to veterans treatment courts beyond only those suffering from mental health disorders or drug addiction. Whenever possible, veteran offenders should be connected to the city-wide network of support services rather than face incarceration.
Whenever and wherever possible, the Yang administration will focus on empowering veterans to help one another, to harness their drive to accomplish the mission and take care of their teammates. Then we will focus on empowering them to help them help all of their fellow New Yorkers, as we know they are called to do.