On March 7, 2022, the New York City Council Committee on Veterans held a budget and oversight hearing. NYHealth President and CEO David Sandman presented the following testimony highlighting opportunities to prevent veteran suicide and address veterans’ mental health and food security needs:
Thank you, Chairperson Holden and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify today about the health needs of veterans in New York City.
I am Dr. David Sandman, President and CEO of the New York Health Foundation. The Foundation is a private, independent, and statewide charitable organization dedicated to improving the health of all New Yorkers—including the 700,000 or so veterans who call New York home.
We have used grants, policy analysis, convenings, and advocacy to profile New York’s veterans, create universal access to Veterans Treatment Courts, build a robust network of community-based services, and prepare health care providers to understand veteran culture and meet their unique needs.
First and foremost, we are working with partners to reduce the tragedy of veteran suicide. In 2019, veterans in New York were nearly twice as likely as the State’s general population to die by suicide. Particularly concerning is the increasing rate of suicide among New York’s youngest veterans, even as rates among older veterans have declined.
Tackling this problem requires a multi-faceted approach, including restricting access to guns. Firearms are by far the most lethal method of suicide. You can learn more about all this work and more by visiting our website, www.nyhealth.org.
New York’s Veterans
Our veteran population has become increasingly diverse. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 23% of New York’s veteran population, with that proportion expected to reach nearly 30% by 2030. The share of women veterans is also growing quickly; women are expected to make up 10% of New York’s veteran population by 2025.
I also want to dispel the notion that veterans are “broken” or violent. Many veterans return from deployments and transition to civilian life relatively smoothly; they’re healthy, ready to work or go to school, and eager to settle into their communities.
But for some, the adjustment isn’t so easy. They may struggle with physical injuries and disabilities, and they may also be dealing with the invisible wounds of war: mental health issues including PTSD, suicidal ideation, and substance use. They may also be challenged by food insecurity, lack of employment, or homelessness.
Improving Mental Health and Addressing Veteran Suicide
Meeting veterans’ mental health needs and preventing veteran suicide must remain top priorities. My colleague (and Marine veteran) Derek Coy previously testified before this committee on the mental health needs of New York City veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New York Health Foundation has been proud to support the expansion of the Stop Soldier Suicide program; so far, it has connected more than 140 New York City veterans at risk of suicide to high-quality, specialized care.
We are also supporting a partnership between New York Cares and the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to continue the Mission: VetCheck program, which is working to provide “buddy checks,” peer-to-peer support, and referrals to 17,000 veterans across New York City who are at a high risk of suicide.
New York City’s Department of Veterans’ Services
DVS has been a key partner. As recently as 2015, the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs had a meager budget and almost no staff. Thanks to the leadership of the City Council, DVS was elevated to a full-fledged agency led by a Commissioner in 2016. That move immediately increased its size and expanded its role.
This includes an enhanced portfolio of work that includes benefits enrollment, employment and housing assistance, mental health outreach, and referrals to mental health resources and food and nutrition programs. For example, DVS was a key partner, alongside the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services and community-based organizations, to deliver hundreds of thousands of meals to veterans facing food insecurity across the City.
These are just a few examples among many. A robustly funded, high-performing DVS is beyond essential. Thanking veterans for their service means nothing if we don’t back up those words with the first-class services and supports they need and deserve.
We respect and share the Council’s commitment to New York City’s veterans. I hope you will look to the New York Health Foundation as a resource for your important work. Thank you.
Watch video of the hearing here (Dr. Sandman’s testimony begins at 2:00:23).
 New York Health Foundation, “New York’s Veterans: An In-depth Profile,” October 2021, https://nyhealthfoundation.org/resource/new-yorks-veterans-an-in-depth-profile-2/.
 New York Health Foundation, “Issue Brief: Veteran Suicide in New York State,” January 2020, https://nyhealthfoundation.org/resource/veteran-suicide-in-new-york-state/.
 More information on New York State’s veteran population—including statistics on factors affecting veterans’ health such as employment status, income, and food security—is available at https://nyhealthfoundation.org/resource/new-yorks-veterans-an-in-depth-profile-2/.