New York City

Veterans, service members protected against discrimination under new NYC law

August 17, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sgt. Victor Morales from Fort Totton and Specialist Malik Ashby from Fort Hamilton guard a Humvee parked outside of Borough Hall in November 2015, during a ceremony honoring Brooklyn’s veterans. Photo by Mary Frost

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials announced on Tuesday new legislation that would include veterans and members of the armed services as a protected class in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The law will give veterans and active military personnel protection (and the ability to file claims) under the New York City Human Rights law.

Joining the mayor in introducing the bill at were Councilmember Jumaane Williams, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James.

 “We continually prop veterans and uniformed service members as valuable protectors of our country,” Williams said in a statement. “Yet, we routinely leave them vulnerable and undefended even as they fulfill their end of the agreement.”

Department of Veterans’ Services Commissioner Loree Sutton said that many veterans face challenges with housing and employment, and suffer from mental and physical health issues, “which may create a stigmatization.”

In November, the city launched a new Department of Veterans Services under the supervision of the City Council, replacing a smaller office directed by City Hall. The expanded department, created at the insistence of the Council, helps vets find jobs, housing and medical care. According to veterans groups and published reports, de Blasio was originally against the expanded agency but Councilmembers “forced his hand.” De Blasio has since come around, veterans groups say.

“Veterans across the country routinely face obstacles in employment, housing and public accommodations,” de Blasio said in a statement on Tuesday, adding, “We don’t tolerate that in New York City.”

Nearly 14,000 veterans are unemployed across New York State, according to the Bureau of Labor Statics. Some vets and service members face discrimination when employers refuse to hire them for fear that they will be deployed during employment, or mistakenly assume that veterans suffer from mental health issues.

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According to the George W. Bush Institute, 15 to 20 percent of post 9/11 veterans come home with symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a survey conducted by the Institute, 46 percent of HR professionals said PTSD and other mental issues posed “hiring challenges.” (Only 22 percent said the same about combat-related physical injuries.)

Roughly 225,000 veterans live in New York City. The city says that veterans’ homelessness has been greatly reduced during the de Blasio administration, but reliable figures of homelessness overall are hard to come by.

The new amendment to the NYC Human Rights Law is a joint proposal by the City Council, the public advocate, Department of Veterans’ Services and the Commission on Human Rights.

 

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