Year 1 at the Department of Veterans’ Services, NYC’s newest agency
Over 70 years ago, President Roosevelt wrote to his Secretary of War out of concern for the well-being of soldiers. In addition to veterans’ physical and emotional welfare, Roosevelt urged that the “ultimate” be done for them; not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but so soldiers can return as “useful citizens” to both themselves and their community.
At the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS), we’re here to do exactly this: the “ultimate” for our veterans and their families. As we reflect on our first year in existence, we’d like to take a moment to share with you — the community we serve — how we plan to do this. Here’s a brief overview on who we are and what we’ve done so far.
Who We Are
DVS serves as a hub, able to put veterans at the center of all our efforts. We coordinate services with a range of agencies at the City, state, and federal level, as well as through public-private partnerships.
Our mission is straightforward: to foster purpose-driven lives for NYC service members, veterans, and their families through:
- effective connections with the NYC community
- targeted advocacy at the local, state, and national level
- compassionate service, ensuring we make it easier to access services and benefits they’ve earned
We believe veterans are civic assets whose strength and demonstrated commitment to public service help NYC thrive.
Team DVS: Staff & Structure
Year 1 at DVS was necessarily a year of institution-building. From a staff of 4 in 2015, DVS now has a team of 29, with additional candidates already identified to reach our full complement of 35 staff members by early 2017.
Instead of following a strict hierarchy, DVS operates as a matrix leadership organization. This means DVS staff is organized by task, with informal teams coalescing around complex challenges spanning one or more units.
Lines of Action
#1: Housing and Support Services
Through unprecedented coordination between City and federal agencies, landlords, developers, and nonprofit partners, New York City has reduced veteran homelessness by nearly 90% in the last five years. In December 2015, New York City became the largest city in the country to be certified by the federal government for ending chronic veteran homelessness — i.e. homelessness for our most vulnerable veterans.
Increased federal resources had an enormous impact on this work. However, given the tight New York City rental market and the overall state of homelessness, subsidies were not sufficient alone. In addition to leveraging local resources, DVS developed three innovative systems to help veterans successfully connect to and maintain affordable housing:
- Veteran Peer Coordinators: one-on-one advocates for each homeless vet
- After Care Coordinator(s): personal follow-up care to mitigate recidivism
- Landlord Coordination Center: liaison between landlords, city agencies, and veterans
With these systems in place, NYC is rapidly approaching “Functional Zero” for its veterans — an end to homelessness for veterans currently in shelters.
#2: Education, Employment & Entrepreneurship (E3)
In addition to aiding veterans with critical needs like housing, DVS is dedicated to getting veterans the education they need, finding fulfilling and sustainable jobs, or if they prefer, creating their own business opportunities. DVS recognizes that it’s not enough to ensure veterans have a place to live. They need the means to live. And just as important, they need to do work that fulfills them.
To address this, DVS is launching satellite offices throughout the city, enabling veterans and their families to meet one-on-one with VA-credentialed Outreach Specialists in each of the five boroughs.
Three satellite offices are already in place: in Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx. DVS is currently working with partners in Manhattan and Brooklyn to establish offices in those boroughs, rapidly advancing toward our goal of meeting veterans and their families in their home communities.
#3: Whole Health and Community Resilience
DVS is committed to connecting veterans with opportunities to connect, to heal, to grow, and to thrive. We approach veteran well being with a holistic approach to health and wellness; what we call the VetsThriveNYC “Core 4” model of care:
- Culture: locating arts and cultural programs geared towards veterans experiences
- Connection: establishing ties with peers
- Community: linking veterans with holistic services within their communities
- Clinical care: connecting veterans to help in clinical environments
Through Core 4, DVS addresses not only the physical health of our veterans, but the full impact of war — mental, physical, and emotional. The Core 4 approach amplifies First Lady of New York Chirlaine McCray’s ThriveNYC mental health roadmap.
One of the unique features of the Core 4 model lies in its pyramid design. Clinical Care — an essential but expensive and highly stigmatized path to well-being — sits at the very tip. Cultural experiences such as films, theater, and the arts are the most easily accessible, cheapest, and least stigmatized, and thus occupy the widest tier at the bottom.
VetConnectNYC: “No wrong door” for services & benefits
DVS wants to ensure there’s no wrong door for veterans and their families seeking services and benefits. To that end, DVS is in the process of procuring the nation’s leading coordinated service delivery platform, currently called NYServes: NYC — soon to be re-branded as VetConnectNYC.
VetConnectNYC links New York City veterans and their families to a constellation of service providers. It’s accessible online, by phone, or by working with one of DVS’ team members. During the two-year pilot phase of NY Serves: NYC, over 2,000 veterans used the service and over 80 vetted service organizations applied to be a part of the network.
DVS Needs You! How To Help
The whole team at DVS is thrilled for the opportunity to build our agency from the ground up. Startups in government are rare, and we want to make sure we lay down the right foundation both for the veterans we serve now and for those the agency will serve in the future.
Stay connected, share your feedback, and work with us as we advance into our first full year in 2017! Check out our website at www.nyc.gov/vets, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @NYCVeterans, visit us at 1 Centre Street, Suite 2208, call us at 212–416–5250, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexis Wichowski is the Press Secretary of the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services