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Veterans Uneasy About New Nassau Agency Chief

Local groups react to new pick to head county vets services agency.

Numerous veterans filled the ’s chamber last Monday to voice their displeasure and concern over the county’s choice for the head of Veterans’ Affairs, Michael Kilbride.

Kilbride would replace current Veterans Service Agency director Pat Yngstrom, whom many of the veterans believe was being forced out.

It is not the first time that veterans’ groups have expressed their displeasure with the county for changing VSA directors, as a similar sentiment was felt when the county chose Matthew Rufrano as a replacement for then-director Ed Aulman in January 2010.

“It comes from the administration, none of the legislators have the managerial role to decide who should be recommended to become the director or whether there being a new director means that the acting director is forced out,” Legislator David Denenberg, D-Merrick, said during last week’s legislative session.

Dan Brandi, a member of the county executive’s veterans affairs advisory committee, extolled Yngstrom in a written statement, saying he was “instrumental” in developing a program involving medical coverage, compensations, vocational rehabilitation and counseling and numerous other programs which reportedly were obtained at no cost to the county through a “veterans helping veterans” initiative.

“Whatever issues arose, Pat was the first to address the issue and achieve the desired result. The new appointee could never attain the same standards of accomplishment,” wrote Brandi, who implored Legislator Howard Kopel and others “not to give into political pressure” in voting for Kilbride.

Yngstrom had brought a reported $4 million dollars into the agency for the various programs. “He did stand-downs for veterans, about two or three a year, basically in Freeport,” Manny Grilo, Commander of the Mineola VFW said Monday. “I helped out, we helped out the homeless veterans.”

Speaking in Kilbride’s defense was Steven Mendes, a combat veteran. “I do know that Mike is a go-to guy,” he said, “and I think you guys made a good decision in appointing him to that position.”

Kilbride has reportedly worked at the VSA since 1995 and is a former Marine who was discharged in 1994, having completed tours in Kuwait.

“It’s not a question of whether we support Mr. Kilbride or not, when Mr. Yngstrom’s no longer here because he was forced out after, I think, 14 years of work,” Denenberg said. “To promote one from within at the expense of someone else when they’re being forced out is just plain wrong.”

Legislator Judi Bosworth, D-Great Neck, a  member of the veterans committee confessed that she “knew nothing about” the appointment. “I find that problematic,” she said.

Kilbride held a meeting with a number of veterans organizations March 1 at the in Garden City.

“We told him ‘we’ll help you 110 percent, but if you fail, you’ve got our (wrath)” Grilo said. “They’ll tell him they’ll help him (but) they really don’t like what happened but they’ll help him. It’s not an easy job.”

Monday the Rules Committee approved Kilbride’s appointment 4-1 with two abstentions. The appointment next goes before the full legislative body.

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