NYC’s Veterans Deserve Better Than Fuzzy Math

Council Members Levin and Ulrich lead a hearing on veteran homelessness on November 10, 2014

Council Members Levin and Ulrich lead a hearing on veteran homelessness on November 10, 2014

Are there really only 120 chronically homeless veterans in all of New York City? That’s what NYC’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) said at a hearing on veteran homelessness on November 10th, and Commissioner Sutton of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs sat with a straight face in support of that data. Are there 15,400 veteran owned businesses in NYC, or are there 39,236? Totally depends on whether you ask NYC’s Small Business Services or the NYC Veterans Advisory Board chair.

What’s my point?

There are hearings being held, bills being proposed, and actions being taken in NYC, supposedly to benefit our population of veterans, yet the numbers we’re discussing seem hazy at best. We aren’t even  in full agreement on NYC’s full population of veterans… is it 200,000? Or 235,000? Or more?

And how exactly are we even defining who veterans are? Are we only counting veterans eligible for VA benefits, or are we counting anyone who served in the military, regardless of discharge status? My vote is for the latter, and I believe the numbers will change significantly if we count everyone who served–including those who might’ve been discharged for behavior related to PTSD or other service-connected conditions that might not have been recognized at the time of their discharge. (It’s also worth noting that there remain many other-than-honorable and dishonorable discharges out there for homosexual conduct–the discharge upgrade status is problematic, and will be the subject of a future post.)

We have a NYC Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs. It is understaffed and under-resourced, but I believe Commissioner Sutton and her staff could provide a valuable service by bringing some much-needed clarity to the math problem we seem to be having when it comes to quantifying the subsets of NYC’s veteran population related to homelessness, veteran-owned businesses, and other important policy issues. We need to see the definitions, data, and methodologies used here. Because NYC’s veterans matter and we deserve better.

#NYCVetsMatter

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