Queens veterans blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday night.
Queens veterans blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio Friday night for taking a “wait and see” attitude to their immediate needs for counseling and services.
“Mayor de Blasio still has to show me he’s veteran friendly,” said Paul Narson, Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32 president. “All of us sitting here can pretty much say, ‘show me.’”
Loree Sutton, the city’s Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, defended the mayor on Friday at the Whitestone headquarters of the chapter.
“I would not have taken the job if I wasn’t sure he’s very much committed to veterans, he’s the son of veterans,” she said. “He very much understands what happens when veterans bring the war home.
Sutton was referring to de Blasio’s father losing half his leg in World War II and subsequent struggles with alcoholism, mental health issues and eventual suicide.
While Sutton outlined a plan of ending veteran homelessness, increasing access to mental health services and connecting veterans with city agencies more efficiently, a number of meeting attendees remain unimpressed with the mayor’s commitment to change.
For example, the mayor waited eight months to appoint Sutton — a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and the Army’s former top psychiatrist — and has denied an increase in funding for the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affair.
The $549,112 budget covers five staff members, leaving $25,000 for all other expenses.
Sutton recently concluded a three-month review of her office and determined better access to city agencies is more critical than additional services.
“Our challenge at this point is not about new services, but about harnessing the power of the organizations we have,” she said.
At least 22 veterans a day die from suicide and over 3,000 V.A. claims are backlogged in New York, where it takes an average of 225 days to complete a claim, according to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Queens has the largest population of veterans in New York City, but only one appointee to the city’s ten-member Veteran Advisory Board.
“I feel, as with most politicians, veterans are an after thought,” Narson said.