In a victory for veterans advocates who have accused City Hall of failing to focus municipal muscle on the problems of New York City's nearly quarter million military veterans, Mayor Bill de Blasio has dropped his opposition to the creation of a stand-alone department of veterans affairs.
A bill that would establish a New York City Department of Veterans Affairs could come up for a vote before the City Council as early as its Dec. 10 meeting, one day before Veterans Day.
"We're proud to join the City Council to support legislation creating an agency dedicated to our brave veterans and their families," the mayor said in a news release.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder Paul Reickhoff, whose organization has pressed the mayor to raise the profile of veterans needs within his administration, said the department would allow the city to better focus on veteran homelessness, health care, unemployment and other challenges that hinder the ability of veterans to reintegrate into civilian life.
"This is a tremendous victory for the veterans movement," Reickhoff said in a prepared statement released Wednesday evening.
The IAVA, which calls itself the nation's largest organization for new veterans, had been pressing the mayor to back a cabinet-level veterans service department for at least two years.
Currently, the city administers its veterans service activities through staff within the mayor's office that since September 2014 has been headed by Commissioner Loree Sutton. Sutton is a retired Army brigadier general, Iraq War veteran and Army psychiatrist who once headed the giant medical center at Fort Hood, Texas.
Before his shift, de Blasio had defended that arrangement.
"I've never been convinced that turning an office into a department, in any subject matter, is necessarily the way to get things done best," he said during a Jan. 27 media gathering, according to a City Hall transcript.
"I like the plans that she's putting together," de Blasio said then. "I think they're very aggressive."
Veteran leaders have said the operation from within the mayor's office is too dependent on coordination with other city agencies, and that city efforts to help veterans have suffered because of it.
A council bill needed to establish a city Department of Veterans Affairs, which was introduced in April 2014, now has the backing of 45 of the council's 51 members, according to a council website.
Queens Republican Eric Ulrich, chairman of the council's Committee on Veterans, had been in quiet negotiations with the mayor for months, hoping to avoid a veto showdown. Ulrich had voiced frustration with the lack of progress, and in April said he might release the bill from committee to force the mayor to either sign or veto the legislation.