Kicking off National Veterans and Military Families Month, the bills aim to raise awareness of the mental health services available throughout the city

City Hall, NY – Today, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Mental Health Committee Chair Linda Lee, together with Council Members Robert Holden, Mercedes Narcisse, and Eric Dinowitz and Public Advocate Jumanne Williams, announced a package of bills aimed at addressing the mental health needs of veterans. The legislative package is the second part of the Council’s Mental Health Roadmap, a comprehensive ongoing plan to improve mental health outcomes for New Yorkers.

In conjunction with the start of National Veterans and Military Families Month, the elected officials and advocates unveiled the new bills to address gaps in the awareness of resources and access to support for those who have served in the military. Proposed legislation, sponsored by Council Member Lee and Public Advocate Williams, would require the City’s Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to develop and distribute an informational pamphlet on services available through the department and conduct community outreach in areas with high concentrations of veterans. Other legislation, sponsored by Council Members Dinowitz, Narcisse, and Lee would enhance data collection practices and establish annual reporting on the provision of mental health services by city agencies to veterans.

Photos from the event can be found here

“As a government, we must do right by veterans and provide them with tangible support that includes better access to mental health services,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “The Council’s legislation will help veterans access and navigate mental health resources so that they can fully utilize the benefits available to them. These bills, a continuation of the Council’s Mental Health Roadmap, will improve mental health outcomes for veterans and our city. I thank Council Members Lee, Holden, Dinowitz and Narcisse, as well as Public Advocate Williams and advocates, for their work in uplifting our city’s veterans and their well-being.”

“The Mental Health Roadmap is a continuous, living document focused on evidence-based solutions to create positive mental health outcomes for New Yorkers in need. Today, the City Council has unveiled the next phase of the Roadmap, which will prioritize the unique needs of our city’s veterans following their separation from military service as they reintegrate back into civilian life,” said Council Member Linda Lee, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addictions. “The complex struggles of veterans suffering from combat-related trauma far too often result in conditions like PTSD which lead to emotional distress, social isolation, and significant disruptions to their daily life. Our mental healthcare infrastructure must be openly accessible and equipped to handle these challenges as we send a strong message of solidarity and support to those who have served our country. Thank you to Speaker Adams, Chair Holden, and my colleagues in the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addictions for your partnership in laying the groundwork for providing the critical support services to make a significant difference by creating better outcomes for the wellness of veterans across our city.”

“As we begin National Veterans and Military Families Month and kick off the next stage of the Council’s Mental Health Road Map, it’s crucial to highlight the unique mental health challenges our veterans face,” said Council Member Robert Holden, Chair of the Committee on Veterans.

The legislative package of this second part of the Mental Health Roadmap includes the following bills, which will be introduced at the Council’s November 2 Stated Meeting:

Public Outreach and Education on Mental Health Resources for Veterans – A proposed local law, sponsored by Council Member Lee, to require DVS, in coordination with city outreach agencies, to conduct public education and outreach regarding mental health resources and services available to veterans in the city.

Informational Pamphlet on DVS Services – A proposed local law, sponsored by Public Advocate Williams, to require the development and distribution of an informational pamphlet on services available to veterans through DVS. The guide would be distributed to all social service agencies, Council Member district offices, Community Board offices, and other locations deemed relevant by the department, as well as be posted on any city website providing information on social services and benefits.

“As I have seen throughout my years of working with veterans while in the Council, I’ve heard their stories and their pain, as many felt there was nowhere they could go, no one they could turn to,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “Mental health care is vital in the military and veteran community, but both the stigma and the system act as barriers. My bill will aim to help veterans be aware of and get access to the services and resources available from the Department of Veterans and throughout city agencies, to help people know their rights and be connected to care. I’m grateful to the Speaker and this Council for aiming to serve the people who have served us all.”

Data Collection on Veterans Accessing Services – A proposed local law, sponsored by Council Member Eric Dinowitz, to require city agencies that collect demographic information from individuals seeking social services to offer a standardized, anonymous, and voluntary survey that contains demographic questions related to veteran status. This compiled data on veterans seeking services from each agency would be reported to help improve access to services.

“I am so proud to introduce a bill that is going to change the way our city’s veterans receive mental health care, for the better,” said Council Member Eric Dinowitz. “Veterans have risked their lives to ensure that we can lead happy, healthy lives. They deserve a government that provides adequate mental health services, and this bill does just that.”

Reporting on Mental Health Services Provided to Veterans by City Agencies – A proposed local law, sponsored by Council Member Mercedes Narcisse, to require the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services to annually report on mental health services provided by city agencies to veterans.

“At the heart of our city is the well-being of its residents, especially those who have bravely served our nation,” said Council Member Mercedes Narcisse. “Veterans, who have given so much, find themselves particularly vulnerable in this mental health crisis only intensified by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. This is more than a challenge, it’s a call to action, and I am proud to stand with Speaker Adams as we work to address this challenge. The Council’s Mental Health Roadmap is not merely a legislative package, it signifies our unwavering commitment. A promise to each New Yorker, including our esteemed veterans, that we acknowledge the depths of this issue and are fervently working towards solutions that prioritize dignity, community, and well-being for all.”

Supporting State Legislation to Provide Eligible Veterans with Emotional Support Dogs – A proposed resolution, sponsored by Council Member Robert Holden, calling on the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, S.4717/A.3149, to authorize the New York State Department of Veterans’ Services to provide eligible veterans with financial assistance for purchasing, training, and the upkeep of service dogs and emotional support dogs.

“Our veterans, who have bravely served our nation, often come home facing a myriad of challenges that can be daunting,” said Council Member Robert Holden. “My resolution underscores the vital need to support their mental and emotional well-being through access to service and emotional support dogs. I urge the State Legislature and the Governor to act swiftly and pass this essential legislation.”

In April, the Council announced the first part of the Mental Health Roadmap with an initial focus on increasing access to community-based preventative services, addressing the mental health workforce shortage, and strengthening public awareness of services. Its legislative proposals were passed into law by the Council just months later in June and July.  The roadmap is an ongoing effort of legislative and budgetary actions at the city, state and federal levels to help address New York City’s decades-in-the-making mental health crisis. It recognizes that meeting people’s individual needs earlier and more consistently can prevent them from entering the harmful cycles that exacerbate mental health conditions.

“As one of the city’s largest providers of health care to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, we applaud Speaker Adams and the City Council for its visionary Mental Health Roadmap and its focus on the needs of veterans,” says Eric Rosenbaum, President and CEO of Project Renewal. “We proudly support our clients—including veterans—to attain stability through health, housing, and employment programs. We are grateful to work with those who have bravely served our country, and to help New York City achieve the Roadmap’s goals.”

“Military service too often brutalizes our troops, and we then routinely abandon them once home. Community Healthcare Network, thanks to City Council support, delivers integrated behavioral and medical health care to New York’s veterans and their families,” said Robert Hayes, President and CEO, Community Healthcare Network. “Veterans’ needs are unique, and so too is our targeted care. We appreciate the Council coming together today to do more.”

“We extend our thanks to the Council for these vital initiatives that recognize the importance of supporting our veterans and their families,” said Wendy McClinton, President and CEO of Black Vets for Social Justice. “By focusing on early support during transition from the military and ensuring that veterans are informed about and prioritized in accessing services, the city can not only honor their sacrifices but also improve their quality of life as they reintegrate into civilian society.”

“I applaud the City Council’s leadership and support for New Yorkers facing mental health challenges, including veterans,” says Jody Rudin, President & CEO of Institute for Community Living. “At ICL, we are proud to operate the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, New York City’s only shelter dedicated to veterans experiencing homelessness. Many of our residents are living with trauma related to their service and facing mental health and substance use challenges. They will benefit tremendously from expanded access to mental health resources.”

“Low-income veterans are among the City’s most vulnerable and are often in danger of falling through the cracks. They face daily obstacles that prevent them from accessing housing, public benefits, and other cornerstones needed to live healthy, stable lives,” said Raun Rasmussen, Executive Director of Legal Services NYC. “But thanks to the continued support and advocacy of Speaker Adrienne Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Chairs Linda Lee and Robert Holden, and the NYC Council, groups like ours are able to provide veterans with the legal and mental health supports they need to get back on their feet. We look forward to continuing our partnership with NYC so that all New York veterans can access the services they need and the justice they deserve.”

“During National Veterans and Military Families month, we honor veterans and military families of all identities and orientations. LGBTQ+ older veterans, like those we serve through the SAGEVets program, are seven times more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts to report needing but being unable to access mental health supports,” said Darcy Connors, Executive Director of SAGEServes, the direct services division of SAGE. “The City Council’s Mental Health Roadmap is an important step forward in promoting access to mental health services for all veterans. SAGE commends Speaker Adrienne Adams, Chair Linda Lee, and Chair Robert Holden for their commitment to addressing the unique mental health needs of our city’s veterans, and for their continued partnership with SAGEVets.”