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Mayor Bill de Blasio signs bill to start agency for military vets

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill Thursday that will create an agency at City Hall designed to provide assistance for military veterans Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

Municipal services for New York City’s 225,000 military veterans will soon be overseen by a separate agency instead of a unit of the mayor’s office — under a bill the mayor opposed earlier this year but signed Thursday.

The new agency — the Department of Veterans’ Services — is charged with helping veterans sign up for benefits, find jobs, locate housing, avoid homelessness, access scholarships and more.

“What happens in war does not end for anyone at the conclusion of that war. Unfortunately, it carries on,” said de Blasio, whose father, Warren Wilhelm, fought in Okinawa and lost his leg in World War II. Wilhelm suffered from alcoholism, barely saw his son and later committed suicide while suffering from cancer.

“Back in my father’s time, a lot of these challenges weren’t identified, weren’t talked about, weren’t addressed,” de Blasio said of the “physical wounds and the mental health wounds” of military service.

Council member Paul Vallone, (D-Queens), said city officials must now map out how the new agency will differ from the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, the unit created in 1987 that the law signed Thursday aboard the Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, will abolish.

“We have some work to do,” he said.

Earlier this year, de Blasio said he had reservations about elevating the office to department status.

“I’ve never been convinced that turning an office into a department, in any subject matter, is necessarily the way to get things done best,” de Blasio said in January.

The bill had been introduced by one of the three Republicans in the 51-member body, Council member Eric Ulrich of Queens. It was signed Thursday in the presence of the New York GOP. De Blasio’s head of veterans’ services, Loree Sutton, who will be the new agency’s commissioner, quoted Republican lion Ronald Reagan in the pre-signing ceremony.

“We’re gonna sing ‘Kumbaya’ at some point, too,” de Blasio said.

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