It may seem curious to host a Veterans Day luncheon a week after Veterans Day, as Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-Washington Heights, Sugar Hill) did. However, as Espaillat announced at the beginning of the luncheon, the scheduling was no accident. He purposely scheduled a week late to make a point – namely, that every day should be “Veterans Day”.
“We can get up every morning and go to work and go to school and raise our families because of your sacrifices,” Espaillat told the veterans in attendance. “Every day of the year should be Veterans Day. But we like to hold it on an off day, because we want to have a special interaction with you and tell you how much we appreciate you.”
Espaillat’s annual Veterans Day luncheon took place yesterday at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, 163 West 125th St. He was joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D); Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. (D); Council Member Bill Perkins (D-Central Harlem, Morningside Heights); State Senator Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights, Fort George, Inwood); and Assemblymembers Carmen De La Rosa (D-Upper Manhattan), Al Taylor (D-Hamilton Heights, Harlem, Washington Heights) and Robert Rodriguez (D-East Harlem).
Prior to the event, Espaillat chose several veterans from across the five boroughs as honorees. In order to select nominees, his office reached out to community boards within our congressional district to nominate veterand within their community. One noteworthy nominee was Dan McSweeney, an 11-year member of the United States Marine Corps and a current member of the United War Veterans Council.
Though the event was primarily a celebration of past and current servicepeople, Espaillat also gave praise to the aspiring servicepeople enrolled in the country’s top military academies. As a member of Congress, he has the privilege of nominating candidates for appointment to the Military, Naval, Air Force and Merchant Marine Academies.
“I am so, so proud of the men and women that I get to nominate to the West Point Academy, to Annapolis, to the Air Force Academy, to the Coast Guard,” said Espaillat.
Later on, he summarized some of the pro-veteran bills he plans to introduce in the near future. For instance, the congressman is currently writing a bill that would equip military hospitals to perform mammograms and other medical procedures that servicewomen need.
“The new army has many women,” said Espaillat. “But unfortunately, in some of the veterans’ hospitals, such as the one in Kingsbridge… when a female veteran goes in for a mammography, they may not have other equipment for other exams. So we’re trying to get each of the hospitals equipped with all of the equipments necessary for women, so she can get all their exams in one place. They shouldn’t have to go to the Bronx to get a mammography.”
But not everyone was quite so impressed with Espaillat’s record regarding veterans. During the congressman’s opening statement, Bronx activist Jose Vega stood up and angrily accused him of helping engineer the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution – a movement that he claimed was largely driven by neo-Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists. Vega also alleged that Espaillat had close ties with former Career Ambassador Victoria Nuland, who helped instate Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new Prime Minister of Ukraine after the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych.
“You don’t serve the veterans,” said Vega. “You don’t honor the veterans. Why did you help Victoria Nuland put Nazis in Ukraine?”
Despite the harshness of Vega’s accusations, Espaillat was unbothered. He calmly thanked Vega for his input, assuring him that his administration is always open to criticism. His response to Vega’s allegation was as follows:
“We, as a nation, should respect our traditional allies who have also given their lives to help the men and women of our armed forces. I believe strongly that Ukraine, facing a major assault from Russia, and the Kurds, facing a major assault from ISIS, have been our traditional allies. And we should honor that allegiance by respecting them.”
(New York County Politics could not find any evidence of a significant connection between Adriano Espaillat and Victoria Nuland.)