Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, in a report identifying challenges to the county’s more than 50,000 veterans, said data-driven decisions are key to effective policy solutions.
The report targeted five areas it outlined should guide local policies concerning veterans, including connecting veterans with existing services, the housing requirements of recently discharged, homeless or older veterans looking to downsize, employment and financial security, support for entrepreneurs, and mental health and substance abuse.
“We want to make sure they get every bit of the help they need, and the respect they deserve,” Schnirman said of veterans. “We want to raise awareness and share the data from this report in order to inform policymakers.”
Nassau is home to the third-largest population of veterans in New York State, according to the report, which said although Vietnam-era vets make up the largest group, county residents include former military personnel from every period of service from World War II on.
The report listed transportation as a key part of the puzzle, because more than three in five Nassau veterans are 65 or older, and more than a quarter have some disability.
Less than half of senior veterans own smartphones, and just a third are on social media, meaning the shift toward electronic communication could leave large numbers of Nassau’s veterans in the dark. The report urged policymakers to consider using direct mailings, newspaper postings and other traditional communications rather than social media when trying to reach senior veterans.
The report, which had input from the office of County Executive Laura Curran, also identified the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency as an omnibus source for veterans in need of benefits counseling, resources and information. The agency provides free one-on-one counseling to veterans seeking advice on medical, psychological, education, housing or other benefits available from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as county tax abatements, job placement, free transportation to VA medical appointments and a free food pantry.
Nearly 50 percent of veterans who require mental health services never seek treatment, even though veterans sometimes face mental health challenges while making the transition from military service to civilian life, according to the report. About 18.5 percent of returning service members have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, while 19.5 percent report experiencing a traumatic brain injury during deployment, the report said.
Although homelessness has fallen, more than 3 percent of Nassau's veterans live in poverty, the report said.
Self-medication has been a problem with a fraction of veterans who sometimes struggle with opioid addiction after being prescribed painkillers because of military injuries. The report recommended that veterans seeking help for addiction or other problems can find answers quickly through the VA Crisis Line, which connects veterans and their families and friends with advisers through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.