Q & A with Eric Ulrich
Chair, New York City Council Committee on Veterans
C&S: Were there any specific programs or initiatives for veterans you were fighting to get included in the budget? What were you able to secure funding for?
EU: I’m happy to say that the FY 15 budget included a $400,000 veterans’ initiative, which I introduced, that will support veterans’ employment, mental health, and legal service programming administered directly by local providers. These programs will help our veterans find good paying jobs, access quality mental health services, and get free legal assistance when they need it most. It also addresses the many needs of a growing and diverse female veteran population in our city, and the complex challenges returning service members face.
C&S: You’ve proposed a bill that would create a department of veteran affairs within city government. Why do you think this is necessary?
EU: Elevating the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs to a true city agency would make a world of difference for many reasons. First, it would enhance the Council’s budgetary scope and allow the City Council to allocate and fund those specific programs and services administered by the department. In addition, having a Department of Veterans’ Affairs would make it easier for the Council to fund veterans’ service organizations that currently have to deal with an arcane budget process and agencies that are unfamiliar with their status, mission and work. Lastly, on a more symbolic note, creating a department—an agency in and of itself—to provide our nation’s heroes the services they deserve affirms our commitment to this critical issue and to one of the most deserving constituencies in the city.
C&S: Where do this and the other bills you’ve proposed—giving mentally disabled veterans priority for licenses to sell merchandise on the sidewalk and offering state employees credit in the public retirement system for military service completed during times of peace— stand?
EU: The Council adopted a resolution this past May in support of New York State Military Buyback reform that recently passed the State Legislature. Gov. Cuomo intends to sign the bill, and I’m glad my committee and the Council did our part to show support. We’re also working on legislation that will restore veterans’ preferences in the NYCHA selection process, reform the Veterans Advisory Board, support V.A. benefit officers in each of the borough halls, prioritize veteran-owned small businesses in the city’s procurement process and other forward-thinking matters that will make New York City a better place for veterans and their families.
C&S: What is the most important issue facing New York City veterans?
EU: Roughly 12 percent of New York City’s veterans are unemployed, and over the subsequent weeks and months more service members will leave active duty and return home to the boroughs seeking work. Measures must be in place to help veterans market their skills to secure meaningful positions commensurate with their experience and interests. Equally important, we must also ensure that these heroes have access to quality healthcare that can treat a magnitude of issues born through service. Access to education is vital as well, and opportunities must be available for veterans to start promising academic careers at one of the city’s colleges.