Michael O’Kane, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, proposed creating a Veterans Affairs Committee within Community Board 5. The goal of the committee, he said, will be to help the 55,000 Queens veterans navigate the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“It wasn’t there when I came home, nobody told me what benefits I was entitled to,” O’Kane, also a member of CB5, said. “It’s a daunting task, it’s really difficult.”
The board agreed to make it a subcommittee under the board’s Health and Human Services Committee. O’Kane said he wants at least five members, preferably veterans, to be part of the group.
“A veteran will talk to another veteran,” he said. “We have unique problems.”
O’Kane wants to establish a referral service, sending vets who need help to a network of veterans organizations who can identify the resources and benefits they can receive.
The vet said it took him 10 years to get his own benefits. He was fine immediately coming home from service, but came down with “a whole host of ailments” just four years later.
“These guys that are coming home now don’t know what’s going to happen down the road,” he said. “It’s important for them to put a claim in as soon as they can with the VA.”
Earlier in the year, Queens Borough Hall created its own satellite office dedicated to helping the borough’s veterans led by Sergeant Deyanira Rios. Veterans praised the office for helping local residents with limited mobility access.
O’Kane added that he wants the subcommittee to meet every other month to start.
“It’s just to help the guys out and welcome them home,” he said.