NEW YORK—Bill de Blasio appointed Loree Sutton to head the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs on Monday, citing the retired U.S. Army Brigadier General’s experience in mental health as the chief impetus for his decision.
“Loree’s revolutionary mental health work has helped countless Army veterans through the struggles so many face when they return from war,” de Blasio said.
“Her expertise in terms of addressing these mental health issues is second to none, and this is the great challenge we’re facing.”
The mayor trumpeted the Department of Small Business Services’ efforts to help veterans transition back into civilian life, including finding jobs for more than 700 veterans and veterans’ spouses since January.
“Some veterans come back and they’re struggling. One of the best things we can do for them is to make sure their spouses have a good job so that the family is strong,” he said.
Sutton seconded the crucial importance of helping veterans transition back to civilian life, a process that she, with 20-plus years in the military, can speak about from experience.
“When we are in uniform working with a team, we know we belong. When we remove that uniform, now my challenge becomes that of engaging with my home community,” Sutton said.
Sutton was the army’s top ranking psychiatrist from 2007 to 2010 at which time she ran the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), which she helped found.
In June of 2010, Sutton resigned from her post at the DCoE following a Propublica/NPR investigation, which found that brain trauma injuries were being systematically under-diagnosed in the army’s medical system.
“The military’s doctors and screening systems routinely miss brain trauma in soldiers. One of its tests fails to catch as many as 40 percent of concussions, a recent unpublished study concluded,” reported Propublica on June 7th.
Months earlier, the DCoE administration received blistering criticism from Congresswoman Susan Davis, a ranking member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Personnel.
“The [DCoE] has also made some serious management missteps that call into question its ability to properly administer such a large and important function,” Davis said at a hearing before the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, on April 13, 2010.
Especially troubling was the lack of progress on the planned vision center, Davis said, for which funds had been allocated three years earlier.
Asked about the state of the city’s veterans’ affairs operations, Sutton said that she will perform inspections in her first 90 days of office, and told reporters to get back to her “in November.”
So far though, she approves of what she sees.
“When I first moved to NYC last year, one of the first things I did was go to Brooklyn’s [Veterans’ Affairs]. I had registered for healthcare at the [Veterans’ Affairs]; I can tell you first-hand, so far my care has been excellent,” she said.