Crain's NY Business: The War in NY, Nowhere to Turn

January 29, 2007 | Other News

FYI. The article below will be in tomorrow’s CRAIN’s NY Business (January 29, 2007). While I am always grateful for any media attention that brings to light the problems veterans are facing here in New York City, I find myself somewhat disappointed with this article. After reading this article, many would be led to believe that the city is doing way more than they are actually are in terms of veterans services.
As I have said before, the Mayor is doing some things for veterans – but on a piecemeal basis – starting programs with no input from the veterans community and then only going part-way with it (Example: The City’s Extended Benefits Program). I felt that this article looked at what the city is doing from the veterans homelessness standpoint and that in essence highlights the problem – what else is the city doing? Once again, as I have stated before: “Where is the myriad of services?” You can read my comments on this at: http://www.r8ny.com/blog/joe_bello/where_is_our_myriad_of_programs.html.
I also disagreed with the comment: “The vets stumble through a confusing tangle of government and nonprofit agencies offering help.” It is not the nonprofits that are the problem – it is the city (and state) government. The local non-profits (Black Vets, New Era, IAVA, Samaritan Village, to name a few) look for and reach out to veterans. They work in the community and try to help the veteran with actual services. It is the city government that is the confusing tangle, with having to go through layers of bureaucracy and runarounds, along with funding cuts for certain programs the nonprofits offer to veterans .
In the article, it is stated that the Mayor and the city have stepped up there outreach to veterans. They talk about “Project Welcome Home” – which (in my opinion, while technically correct) is not a plan to find “housing for 100 veterans in 100 days” but a plan to move 100 veterans out of the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence (BAVR) and either move them into SRO’s or give them a bus ticket to re-unite them with there families (i.e Maryland). As I have said before – it is NOT a fully thought out plan, NOT permanent housing and nothing will prevent these veterans from returning to the shelter system!
Also, it is stated in the article that the Mayor “launched a joint task force of the city, the VA and non-profits and charged it with finding way to help those who have served.” This statement / sentence is wrong – The task force was to: “develop permanent strategies for housing the remaining homeless veterans in New York City.” So it does not deal with helping those who have served and are returning unless you become homeless. As I said before, look at this list of those on the task force and you will only see three (local) veteran non-profit organizations on the list and they were only invited to the task force at the last minute. You can read my total comments on the Mayors’ veterans homeless initiative at: http://www.r8ny.com/blog/joe_bello/mayor_gives_vets_a_whole_lotta_not_much.html
While it is true that the Mayor did fight to save the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA Hospitals, he only arrived after a former councilwoman pushed him to take action and after many veterans (read advocates) confronted both Deputy Mayor Walcott and the MOVA director to get him moving on the issue, in essence a year late.
As for the City Veteran Resource Centers, I find it surprising and interesting that in this article it states: “Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t ruled out supporting the proposal, which will be one of many options considered.” However, just two weeks ago, the day after the Press Conference at City Hall for the resource centers, the Mayor’s spokesman stated in the New York Daily News: “Jason Post, a Bloomberg spokesman, said the administration is not considering Monserrate’s recommendation.” So what happened? What changed? What “OTHER” options are being considered and who are they asking for help/input from? Why the mixed message?
I am also a bit disappointed that Crain’s NY did not go deeper into what’s going’s on with MOVA (lack of resources, leadership, money, staff of three, recent move, etc.), but I totally agree with the lack of numbers and where the numbers that are used come from. I actually pointed this out on the Veteran Homelessness issue with the different numbers given by the Department of Homeless Services (in reports and testimony) and the VA. I also thought it was somewhat interesting in that it seems the Commissioner of DHS is the de facto spokesman for the city in terms of veterans services (he is an Army vet). I actually think this goes to show how much the Mayor trusts Mr. Hess and not Ms. Joynes.
If you have any comments or thoughts that you would like to share with Ms. Samantha Marshall, the writer of this story, her e-mail is listed at the bottom of the story. The bottom line is that the BS, piecemealing and half-ass measures have to stop. I believe the Mayor (and the Speaker) want to help veterans but they need stop talking about how they support the troops and veterans and work with the community to come up with a comprehensive and well-thought out plan. I stand by ready to assist…Joe Bello
Nowhere to turn
Lacking cohesive support system, vets fall through cracks; city steps up efforts

By: Samantha Marshall
Published: January 28, 2007 – 6:59 am

When he left the military in August 2005, John DeVito was hoping for a better life. It hasn’t turned out that way.

The former Army tank driver, who saw six months of combat in Iraq as a member of the invading forces, was injured at a roadside check outside Baghdad. The barrel-chested 23-year-old now needs a cane to get around. He can’t find a job and believes that his disability, combined with his limited work experience, has hurt his prospects.

Mr. DeVito is getting by on about $450 a month in military disability payments and staying with his mother on Staten Island while he studies computer science.

“To go back to living under Mommy’s roof is never a great feeling after being independent,” says Mr. DeVito, who last year was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder last year by a doctor with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “A lot of stuff gets compounded — past events from combat and my current standing — and I go through these bouts of depression.”

His story is the story of thousands of New Yorkers who are struggling to re-enter civilian life after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of them suffer from social, medical or psychological problems caused by the stresses of battle. Left untreated, such trauma symptoms — which studies indicate affect about one in five veterans — usually worsen over time.

Coming home

The vets stumble through a confusing tangle of government and nonprofit agencies offering help. It’s an inadequate system that can’t even muster an official, up-to-date count of how many vets are at risk.

As of the end of 2005, at least 6,000 people in the New York area had been discharged from tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. That was the last time the Department of Defense released such data. Experts estimate the current figure to be about 8,000. President George W. Bush’s recent decision to deploy 21,000 additional soldiers to Iraq stands to increase the population of vulnerable returnees.

“There’s a real need out there, and it must be addressed,” says Robert Greene, combat veteran coordinator for New York Harbor Health Care System, a VA hospital that has registered 3,685 veterans seeking services since Oct. 1, 2004.

An initial Crain’s investigation 18 months ago found early signs of a troubled homecoming for the city’s veterans (Aug. 30, 2005, Page 1). At the time, advocates estimated that perhaps as many as 100 men and women who had fought in Iraq or Afghanistan were homeless. Today, according to the people who treat and counsel veterans, the number of homeless vets in the city probably exceeds 100 and is climbing.

New York officials have recently stepped up their outreach. Last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced initiative “Project Welcome Home” to find housing for 100 veterans of any war within 100 days. He launched a joint task force of the city, the VA and nonprofits and charged it with finding ways to help those who served. After being lobbied by advocates, the mayor also successfully championed the cause of two VA hospitals that Washington was threatening to close.

Meanwhile, some City Council members are floating a proposal to budget $5 million to create a one-stop referral center in each borough. The centers would address a major problem: The network of agencies serving returning vets is decentralized and disorganized. A spokesman for the mayor says that Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t ruled out supporting the proposal, which will be one of many options considered.

Robert Hess, commissioner of New York’s Department of Homeless Services, says, “We want to try to craft a different system that identifies veterans’ needs earlier to prevent them from ever ending up on the streets.”

The efforts are coming not a moment too soon. Though the VA is the principal agency for discharged servicemen and women, not all are eligible for help. In addition, budget cuts have hit the agency hard.

Though the figures are rough, some advocates estimate that at least 3,000 more New York vets will need help with housing, mental health issues and job counseling over the next two years. They will turn increasingly to city agencies ill-equipped to handle the influx: The Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs has a budget of $180,000 and a staff of three. Veterans say they end up dialing 311 to find out where they can get help, usually without success.

“If I got out of the military right at this moment, I would have no idea where to go for veteran services in the city,” says Joseph Bello, a veterans advocate.
Facing foreclosure

One female army veteran who asked not to be named says that since leaving active duty a year ago, she has made dozens of calls for assistance with job placement and legal issues. She now faces foreclosure on her late parents’ home in Queens.

City and federal agencies don’t have a handle on how many are in the greatest need. The city puts the overall number of homeless vets in the five boroughs at about 700, though there’s no consensus even among departments. The figure probably understates the problem.

“The truth is, nobody knows with certainty” how many Iraq and Afghanistan vets are included in that tally, Mr. Hess says. “I’m sure there are a few, and I’m sure there will be more over time, tragically.”



New York Harbor Health Care System (212) 951-3295


Bronx Vet Center (718) 367-3500

Brooklyn Vet Center (718) 624-2765

Harlem Vet Center (212) 426-2200

Manhattan Vet Center (212) 620-3306

Queens Vet Center (718) 296-2871

Staten Island Vet Center (718) 816-4499


Workplace questions (866) 4USA-DOL


National Veterans Foundation Hotline (888) 777-4443


Veterans of Foreign Wars (212) 807-3164

Black Veterans for Social Justice (718) 852-6004

Citizen Soldier (212) 679-2250

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (212) 982-9699


New Era Veterans (718) 904-7036

Salvation Army Borden Ave.
Residence (718) 784-5690

Comments? SMarshall@crain.com