Last January, U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan visited the College of Staten Island’s Willowbrook campus for a press conference to discuss his amendment to the latest iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that sought to secure greater equity for Staten Island student-veterans. The Congressman returned to CSI yesterday, in the company of CSI President William J. Fritz, Director of the CSI Office of Veterans Services Laura Scazzafavo, and local veterans, with the news that his amendment has been approved. The issue came to his attention after Scazzafavo made him aware of it.
At present, student-veterans receive a basic allowance for housing (BAH) to offset rent costs. When the Department of Defense (DOD) last assessed rental costs in New York City’s five boroughs, it set the BAH for Staten Island at a lower rate than those of the other NYC boroughs. The new amendment required the DOD to conduct a study to re-evaluate the BAH for Staten Island based on the latest housing data with the goal of achieving a more equitable stipend for Island student-veterans.
After his introduction from College President William J. Fritz, who underscored CSI’s continued recognition for the support and services that it provides its student-veterans, including being named the Number One Military Friendly School in the U.S. by Victory Media, Rep. Donovan mentioned that the study was completed and Staten Island resident student-veterans will receive an approximately 4.5 percent increase in the Basic Housing Allowance, which will equal roughly $150 per month. The increase in benefits should take effect later in 2018.
However, he added that this is only the beginning, “It doesn’t put us on an equal playing field. In fact, the other four boroughs took a cut because of the disparity, but it gives us a start, and we’re not finished yet. Last week, before the House Armed Services Committee, I testified about asking them to demand from DOD that New York become one Basic Assistance for Housing area so that everyone will be treated equally…So this is a start. It’s a good start. It’s showing that we’re doing something for our veterans who weren’t being treated fairly here on Staten Island.”
Dr. Fritz commented that “Equalization of the Basic Allowance for Housing is a battle that CSI, our Veterans community, and Congressman Donovan have been fighting together for some time. I congratulate Congressman Donovan’s efforts, which have brought about a more equitable housing allowance for student-veterans on Staten Island, and we will work with him as this process continues.”
Besides the Basic Housing Allowance disparity, Rep. Donovan mentioned that he is working on many other veterans’ issues, including making Veterans Administration services and facilities more accessible to veterans, and the Blue Water Navy Bill, which ensures that Naval veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War receive benefits that are given to land-based veterans.