Veterans rally ’round the new Department of Veterans’ Services

Members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gather at a ceremony featuring New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Eric Ulrich, chairman of the Veterans Committee, in Manhattan on Nov. 10, 2015. Photo Credit: John Roca

Veterans cheered the news.

Members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gather at a ceremony featuring New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Eric Ulrich, chairman of the Veterans Committee, in Manhattan on Nov. 10, 2015.
Members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gather at a ceremony featuring New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Eric Ulrich, chairman of the Veterans Committee, in Manhattan on Nov. 10, 2015. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Robert M. Morgenthau

Veterans cheered the news that the City Council has approved the creation of the nation’s largest stand-alone Department of Veterans’ Services.

“This is fantastic,” said Sandra Rolon, 56, who left the U.S. Army as a sergeant in 2012 after a 31-year career. The new department, which was created in addition to a city office with a staff of 11 people, is “not taking anything away at all,” but adding services to ensure the city’s veterans are well served, she said.

NYC is home to 225,000 veterans. According to research compiled by U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and released yesterday, post 9/11 veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 had an unemployment rate of 16.2% in 2014 – more than twice the unemployment rate of older veterans and 3.7 percentage points higher than nonveterans their age. More than one in 10 veterans between 18 and 34 lives in poverty – and they are more than twice as likely to be homeless than their non-veteran counterparts, she found. 

Frank Archbald, 35, a former U.S. Army medic, would like the new department to help vets with relevant experience get placement in good city jobs.

“I was a combat medic but there were so many hoops to go through,” said Archbald, who returned from Afghanistan in 2008, and found it impossible to land a gig as a paramedic here.

“My field experience was a little more relevant than what some of these kids have,” yet he couldn’t get on a hiring list, he said.

“Lots of veterans face problems transitioning from military to civilian life,” he said, and a Department offering a comprehensive list of services from housing hook ups (“lots of vets are homeless”), employment assistance, counseling and help obtaining benefits would be a godsend, Archbald said.

Archbald also had a suggestion for who should be in charge of, and staff, the new entity: “Veterans!”

The “enormity of the increase to the veteran population,” makes the new Department necessary, said retired Lt. General Richard Newton III, 59, of Murray Hill, who noted that veterans face a daunting bureaucracy when they return from what are sometimes multiple deployments.   “If this is going to address the shortfalls that we’ve had and the shortfalls of other bureaucracies in dealing with the veteran issues here in NYC, I’m all for it,” Newton said. 

The services, Newton noted, will wind up not only being a boon to veterans, but their families. 

Sheila Anne Feeney