The New York City Council last week approved an amendment to the city’s Human Rights law that will include veterans and members of the uniformed military (active duty, reserves, and National Guard) as a protected class which cannot be discriminated against. With the change, New York City will have the strongest veterans’ protection law in the country. New York City law differs from U.S. federal law in that it treats all veterans and service members equally, regardless of time in service or the characterization of the discharge.
The change in law (Int. 1259) will allow veterans and service members to use the already established complaint process other protected classes of individuals currently have access to, a direct complaint filed with the city’s Human Rights Commission, instead of leaving them few options outside of civil suits as is the case in most of the country. Public Advocate Tish James declared that acts of discrimination against veterans or service members in New York City “will be seen not as an isolated incident, but a violation of human rights law.”
When I came home from my 3rd deployment in Afghanistan, I found myself paying higher rents and I had been left behind in my job. I didn’t know where to turn for help and resources, and I didn’t know where to find what was going on with the NYC veterans’ community …
-Kristen Rouse, NYC Veterans Alliance founder
NYC Veterans Alliance is the organization behind the bill, after canvassing veterans of all eras about issues they faced in their daily lives. Many complained about a lack of basic recognition by their community. The amendment received broad support from the Public Advocate Tish James, councilmembers, the mayoral administration, and advocacy groups. Both the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commissioner for Veterans’ Services testified in favor of its passage in a special joint-committee hearing. Brigadier General (ret.) Loree Sutton, the Commissioner for Veterans’ Services highlighted the need for this legislation. “The Commission regularly receives inquiries from veterans and service members about discrimination and my staff have had to refer those cases to the State Division of Human Rights unless we can identify another area of protection over which we actually have jurisdiction.”
State and federal laws tend to be less encompassing and more difficult to get relief under.
— NYC VeteransAlliance (@NYCVetsAlliance) June 22, 2017
Council Member Jumaane Williams, a vocal opponent of recent U.S. wars, was the main sponsor of the legislation. Said Williams, “I don’t particularly favor many of the wars that our nation gets into. I don’t favor how we make ware be the force that guides us and give us our morals but I do want to think about the human beings that we make promises to and who actually risk their lives based on those promises.” The law will take effect 120 days after Mayor Bill de Blasio signs it, which is expected shortly.
The update to the Human Rights Law was the cornerstone of NYC Veterans Alliance’s 2016/17 legislative agenda, one they lobbied for throughout the legislative session. Other wins for the advocacy group include an increase to the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services budget, and tax relief for struggling veteran homeowners.
NYC Veterans Alliance began in 2015, when founder Kristen Rouse (@TrueBoots on Twitter) was part of a coalition of veterans trying to persuade then-first year mayor Bill de Blasio to implement some major changes in how the city helps its over 200,000 veterans. The largest piece of that agenda, transforming the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs into a standalone department with an increased staff and budget, became a reality in late 2015.
While there were many active groups advocating for veterans at the time, Rouse saw a need for a group which wasn’t tied to a particular war or type of service, but serves all veterans in the city.
“When I came home from my 3rd deployment in Afghanistan, I found myself paying higher rents and I had been left behind in my job. I didn’t know where to turn for help and resources, and I didn’t know where to find what was going on with the NYC veterans’ community. City government wasn’t offering any solutions, and so I worked with friends, service providers, and family members to create an organization that would be the policy voice for veterans & families at the local level, and that would create the things that I wish were there when I came home, which was better information and somebody making change,” said Rouse.
Celebration and Press Conference Civic Hall
Posted by NYC Veterans Alliance on Monday, June 26, 2017
Funded by a grant from Craig Newmark of Craig’s List, donations, and members’ dues, the group has spent the last two years listening to city veterans to find out what their needs and concerns are. In addition to local legislative advocacy, the organization also runs training sessions for veterans and spouses interested in running for public office, and works with city agencies and other advocacy groups on issues ranging from homelessness to voter registration.
Up next is a concentrated effort to find more affordable housing for veterans. It’s an area that the city has had some success in, but there is still much work to be done. NYC Veterans Alliance offers a guide on the issue.
Robert Cain, Lima Charlie News
[Rob Cain is a member of NYC Veterans Alliance, and lobbied for and testified in favor of this bill. Rob also worked for Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton and the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs (now DVS).]
Robert Cain is a veteran of the United States Air Force, where he served six years as a Korean cryptologic language analyst. After an honorable discharge, he spent six years supporting the Defense Intelligence Agency as an all-source intelligence contractor. Rob is currently studying urban policy issues at Columbia University, and will earn his B.A. in Urban Studies this May. He is a Veterans for Global Leadership Fellow, and former community outreach coordinator for New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs (now the Department of Veterans’ Services). Rob is an avid theater and movie goer and is trying to decide if it’s worth holding onto his massive DVD collection in our new digital age. Follow Rob on Twitter @imrobcain
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews