Staten Island has the highest per capita concentration of veterans of the 5 NYC boroughs and Sector New York is the largest Coast Guard operational field command on the East Coast. The main staff of Sector New York is located at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island with one thousand active duty and reserve servicemembers. The Army Reserve 353 Civil Service Command also located at Fort Wadsworth organizes, trains, and equips soldiers to mobilize, deploy and conduct civil military operations with a primary focus in the U.S. Africa and U.S. European Command regions.
Although, we have many veterans and active-duty military service members on Staten Island, the civilian and veteran and military communities and services are not as well integrated and aware of each other as they might be.
In March of 2020, Commissioner James Hendon of the New York City Department of Veteran Services (DVS) in collaboration with the Substance and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) held a Crisis Intercept Mapping session at Fort Wadsworth with the goal of creating a community-based Veteran Suicide Prevention program as a pilot for the other four boroughs. This initiative was driven by the fact that the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times that of the general population. After the meeting, a partnership was established with the Staten Island Performing Provider System, (SIPPS) to create the Staten Island Veterans Suicide Prevention Collaborative (SIVSPC). SI PPS is the premier solutions-based, data-driven health program in our region, coordinating program delivery to 25,000 Staten Island residents annually. Founded in 2014, SI PPS has brought together the often-disconnected healthcare community to improve services on Staten Island in partnership with 50+ organizations.
Based on the success of the Staten Island Crisis Intercept Mapping pilot collaboration between DVS and SIPPS, similar initiatives were launched in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan.
Since June of 2020, SIVSPC has hosted nine webinars of assorted topics of suicide prevention with an average audience of forty-five participants from the Staten Island Veteran and civilian communities as well as others from Veteran regional and national communities.
In June of 2020, SIPPS received grant funding for 6 SIPPS civilian partner to provide outreach individuals who received services from them and who identified as having served in the military. The civilian partners were Project Hospitality, Richmond University Medical Center, Community Health Action of Staten Island, YMCA, Silverlake Services, Meals on Wheels and Bridge Back to Life. The outreach was to determine Social Determinants of Health needs, i.e., housing, food, employment, medical and behavioral health.
Based on telephone outreach, 252 services were delivered with 125 Veterans were connected to health and social services, forty-eight to food pantries, twenty-three for utility and income support, nineteen for housing or eviction prevention, sixteen for behavioral health. 31,476 meals were delivered to veterans by Meals on Wheels and case workers outreached 150 veterans by phone whose spouses passed away or needed other Covid 19 related support.
This initiative brought home the fact that many veterans on Staten Island were receiving services in civilian organizations but that the civilian organizations were not necessarily considering the impact of the military culture on these individuals. It also brought home the need to provide military cultural competence training to civilian organizations and individuals.
As a result of the DVS partnership, we were connected to Colonel Paul Dietrich, Staten Island representative to the New York City Veterans Advisory Board. Colonel Dietrich participates in many veteran organizations and activities on Staten Island including participating in the Veterans Court as a volunteer mentor with the Staten Island Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). RSVP is a national AmeriCorps organization piloted on Staten Island 57 years ago. RSVP created a Veterans Taskforce in 2016. SIPPS and SIVSPC combined efforts and partners and created the RSVP/SIPPS Staten Island Veterans Taskforce which began meeting on a bimonthly basis in June of 2021. In 2023, we began hybrid meetings with both in person and virtual participants. Participants include DVS, individual veterans, RSVP volunteers, RSVP staff, the Harbor VA Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinator, the Staten Island VA Community Clinic, the Staten Island Vet Center, Veterans Yoga Project, the College of Staten Island Veteran program, CHASI, Blue Star Families, Staten Island University Hospital, Richmond University Medical Center, the Staten Island Borough Presidents Office, State Assemblyman Tannoukis, State Senator Jessica Scarcella and many others.
In our Taskforce meetings, it became clear that food insecurity was a significant challenge for the veteran and active-duty population. As a result, we formed the Staten Island Veterans Food Insecurity Taskforce which began meeting on a bimonthly basis in September of 2022. Participants include SIUH, Meals on Wheels, Gods Love We Deliver, Harbor VA Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinator, DVS, New York Military One Source, CHASI, City Harvest and NYC Department of Probation.
The Food Insecurity Taskforce supported the development of the Department of Probation Veterans Neon Kitchen program which provides free and nutritious groceries for our Staten Island Veteran and active duty individual and families. The Veterans Neon Kitchen program joined the Food Insecurity Taskforce which supported it by publicizing it through the network. The Veterans Program was piloted in the Bronx and Staten Island in the spring of 2023. The Bronx pilot ended because there was not sufficient attendance, but the Staten Island program has become permanent.
The Food Insecurity Taskforce also provides support to the Blue Star Families Nourish the Service food pantry at the Coast Guard Station. Every other week, 125 military individuals representing five hundred family members obtain food and supplies.
The Taskforce obtained New York State Dwyer funding through DVS to provide weekly Yoga classes to Veterans at the Staten Island Gold Star American Legion Post. The yoga classes are given by the Veteran Yoga Project, a national organization whose mission is to provide free yoga to veterans. There have been 30 classes held since June of 2023. Participants report their pre and post class levels of pain and distress. They report a 81% reduction in distress and 76 % reduction in pain after the class.
The participation in the Taskforce is growing exponentially, currently with over seventy organizations and individuals involved. Because of this growth, we have made significant changes to the Taskforce organization and procedures for 2024.
- An Advisory Committee has been formed and met for the first time in December.
- A monthly newsletter will begin publishing in January of 2024.
- Monthly hybrid Meetings will be held monthly starting in January of 2024 with issues of Food Insecurity, Volunteers and College students covered in each meeting.
- The Advisory Committee approved a Mission Statement.
The Staten Island Veterans Taskforce is a collaborative network comprising more than seventy military and civilian entities and dedicated individuals. Its first objective is to identify pressing challenges encountered by Veterans, service members and their families in Staten Island, and to formulate actionable strategies to address these issues. The Taskforce’s secondary objective is information and resource sharing. The third objective is to provide referrals for individuals in need of services to the appropriate agency or Taskforce member for assistance.