NEW YORK—Veterans have largely been ignored as a voting block during the 2013 city elections. Despite numbering over 200,000, there have not been any significant debates or discussions focusing on veterans’ issues.
At least one influential veteran chalks that up to a collection of issues, which the veteran community is planning to address. Veterans concerns largely fall under the federal government, and secondarily the state. The city tends to view veterans’ issues through the lens of citizen concerns such as mental health and housing where they liaise with private and nonprofit groups to run programs.
The American Legion, the largest veterans’ association in the country, is planning to come together in New York City and create a consolidated list of requests for the new government, although members understand this will not be an easy task.
Fan Wong, past national commander of the American Legion, said it will also be holding legislative breakfasts across New York City beginning in September to speak with legislators about veterans’ issues. But just as importantly, it is trying to get a consensus and “come up with a list of priorities.”
On a fundamental level, issues for veterans are not clear-cut. This is because crammed under the “veteran” title is one of the most diverse groups in the United States. It includes both men and women, all races, multiple generations, and combat troops from World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many lesser-known conflicts.
Many veterans associations are divided by war, and therefore by generation, and each generation has its own issues at the forefront. The older folks may be more interested in health care, the middle-aged more interested in retirement benefits, and the younger more interested in education and work. In New York City, issues veterans are concerned with also vary across the boroughs.
Some groups focus solely on helping get homeless veterans off the streets. Others assist younger veterans with job applications and finding work. Some may work on treatments for common disabilities veterans face, such as Traumatic Brain Injury.
“We have so many types of veterans association around, and unfortunately, when you have so many it’s hard to come up with a consensus of what we need and what we’re going to do,” Wang said.
Yet finding a solution will become increasingly important moving forward due to the large number of troops in service scheduled to return from Afghanistan next year.
A small group of veterans recently released a report, “Down Range and Home Again,” to mayoral candidates, which outlines several issues of concern for local veterans.
It notes that according to census data, New York state has the fourth largest veteran population in the United States—close to 1 million residents. And the state also has close to 90,000 residents currently in service—the third largest in the nation.
“New York City needs to continue to assess the needs of those veterans who are already home, those who have just recently returned home, and those who will be returning,” states the report.
“The next administration will have to better advocate on their behalf and create policies and programs that will help them avoid pain and distress as they transition back to their local communities within the five boroughs.”