Council President won’t entertain thought on Director of Veterans Affairs, though one Councilman says the city can do better.
When 4th District Philadelphia City Councilman, Mr. Curtis Jones – who in 2012 co-sponsored a hearing on the state of Veterans Affairs in City Hall – first took office in 2008, the only thing the city provided to veterans, he said, were flags.
Currently, on the first floor of City Hall, is the Veterans Advisory Commission, which shows that “we’ve picked our game up,” he said.
Though Councilman Jones hadn’t yet read a recent report which, again, illuminated the Philadelphia Veterans Service Scandal, he did say in an exclusive interview with Techbook Online that “veterans are undeserved” and the City “could do better.”
The report, which was released yesterday, found that a Philadelphia VA office simultaneously underserved and overcompensated veterans, kept them waiting for months to get answers to their benefits questions, paid out millions in duplicate benefits and even housed some employees in a vermin-infested warehouse, according to StarsandStripes.com.
“Oh my goodness,” remarked Philadelphia City Councilwoman, Ms. Jannie Blackwell, who along with Philadelphia City Councilman, Mr. David Oh, were the other sponsors of the 2012 hearing. “I thought things were getting better,” she continued, “it’s unconscionable that those who served so much aren’t treated fairly.”
Councilwoman Blackwell said when veterans call her office she always answers, adding that neither she nor the City will take the recent findings lightly.
“I’m prepared to have hearings on it. It’s our responsibility to make life better for them,” she told Techbook Online exclusively.
Mr. Ari Merretazon, a Vietnam veteran who testified at the hearing and even held his own symposium on the issue at Triumph Baptist Church in Germantown – the site for next Saturday’s Candidates’ Forum of the State of Veterans Affairs – said these issue could’ve been mitigated if the City followed the law and appointed a Director of Veterans Affairs.
Unhappy with the Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Commission, which he said was populated through “political patronage,” Mr. Merretazon is of the opinion that if the City had a liaison that worked between the Veteran community and the VA, than city officials would’ve been aware of the problem sooner and could’ve “come to our aid.”
“I assumed the VAC does do that… they’re the liaison,” said Councilwoman Blackwell. “They’re a small agency doing the best they can. The VAC under Mr. Brown has been doing a good job. The problem is within the VA… We need to look into the VA… that’s where I want to focus my time.”
The problem, or at least one of many, is Philadelphia City Council President, Mr. Darrell Clarke, said Mr. Merretazon, who in 1978 testified before Congress and helped pass legislation that led to the establishment of Vietnam Vet centers in more than 40 states.
“It was on Darrell Clarke’s time that we declared a state of emergency. It’s a matter of City Council and the Mayor not doing their responsibility. The city has an obligation, a municipal obligation,” said Mr. Merretazon, who’s the organizer of the upcoming candidates forum meant to asses the awareness of those seeking office on the issue related to veterans affairs.
The city’s attitude towards veterans, said Mr. Merretazon, is “welcome home, you’re on your own.”
By the city’s own admission, it was only a few years ago that it held a first-ever Veterans Resource Fair.
“It’s unacceptable,” Mr. Merretazon exclaimed, informing me that he regrets fighting the war and recommends no young person choose a career in the military unless there’s a “civil war.”
The biggest gripe Mr. Merretazon has with the City, particularly Councilman Clarke, is that he’s ignoring a 1950’s era law that mandates a Director of Veterans Affairs for each county.
When asked today in the City Council Caucus room whether or not he supports a Director of Veterans Affairs, Councilman Clarke said “I support what we have now.”
The candidates confirmed for the State of Veterans Affairs Candidates Forum –where I serve as an interviewer and Mr. Merretazon, the moderator – are Mr. Isaiah Thomas, a candidate for City Council At-Large; and Mayoral Candidates Mr. Douglas Oliver; State Senator, Mr. Anthony Hardy Williams; Mr. Milton Street and Former Philadelphia District Attorney, Ms. Lynne Abraham.
CLICK HERE to listen to Mr. Merretazon and Black men across America explain “WHY THE BLACK VOTE MATTERS.”
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