Rep. Max Rose rips NYC mayor for being 'MIA' on veteran suicides

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., right, stands behind a suicide awareness poster at a Capitol Hill press conference on April 29, 2019. With him are, left to right, Reps. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., Chris Pappas, D-N.H., and Conor Lamb, D-Pa.


By CHRIS SOMMERFELDT | New York Daily News | Published: August 15, 2019

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — Max Rose has a bone to pick with his hometown mayor.

The Staten Island congressman took aim at Bill de Blasio on Wednesday for leaving New York out of a veteran suicide prevention program, charging the mayor “dropped the ball" on the critical issue.

Rose — a first-term Democrat who received a Purple Heart for his service in the Afghanistan War — told the Daily News he was “infuriated” to recently learn de Blasio in April 2018 declined to join the “Mayor’s Challenge,” an initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that helps city governments expand suicide prevention services.

“When it comes to veteran suicide, he’s MIA,” Rose told The News.

In a letter, Rose called on de Blasio to reverse his decision and promptly join the “Mayor’s Challenge.”

“Someone inexcusably dropped the ball,” Rose wrote to de Blasio. “You have spoken often of New York City leading the way on issues of incredible importance, yet for some reason your administration declined an opportunity to do so when it comes to saving the men and women who risked everything to keep us safe.”

The mayor’s office said they’ve taken measures to address the veteran suicide issue.

“Ending veteran suicide is deeply important to this administration and we have a number of programs committed to doing just that. We would love to meet with Congressman Rose to see if there are ways we can work together in this shared goal," Freddi Goldstein.

But in an Aug. 5 email obtained by The News, the mayor’s office of federal affairs said the city didn’t join the suicide prevention program “due to a change in leadership” at ThriveNYC, the embattled mental health initiative spearheaded by First Lady Shirlanie McCray, and a “limited capacity” at the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services.

“We informed SAMHSA that we would like to delay our involvement until we felt we could commit the necessary resources,” the mayor’s office said in the email, using an acronym for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which also plays part in coordinating the “Mayor’s Challenge.”

Rose didn’t buy that excuse.

“I am troubled that we are not using every tool at our disposal,” Rose said in his letter.

The latest data released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows 19% of all veteran deaths in New York in 2016 were suicides — 11% lower than the national average.

However, New York’s veteran suicide rate was still significantly higher than the state’s overall 10.4% suicide rate and also higher than the national 17.5% suicide rate.

“So I challenge the Mayor,” Rose said, “step up the plate and join the Mayor’s Challenge.”

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