A group of determined veterans is organizing to help military members returning from war in any way they can. Korean War veteran John Donohue and others spoke passionately about the need for the community to aid disabled veterans at a meeting hosted by the on Saturday.
“It can get off the ground. We just have to light the candle,” Donohue told the group after telling his inspirational story about how the community united to build WWII veteran Jack Buhs a handicap modified house after his spine was crushed in the war. “We have to do this again.”
A group of about 40 veterans, public officials, clergy and community members learned about the Heroes to Hometown program, designed to welcome home and support service members who are severely injured. The program is supported on the national level by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The program creates a network of community members, veterans groups, businesses, municipalities, schools and other institutions that work together to connect veterans to national and local support services and to raise funds for veteran needs. Saturday’s meeting was the first step in getting committed representatives from various groups to dedicate their time and energy to the cause. The groups will form a Heroes transition team that identifies needs, emotional and practical, and pools resources to fulfill them.
So if a disabled veteran needs a handicap accessible bathroom in his home but cannot afford it, the network will mobilize to find the volunteers and materials needed to help.
Essentially any business, organization or individual in the community can help. Hotels are needed for veterans who might need to travel somewhere for treatment Construction, plumbing, electrical and other unions can offer labor and supplies to build handicap accessible ramps or to help with needed home improvements. Landscape companies and snowplow businesses can help veterans who are unable to perform that kind of work themselves.
American Legion Post 274 Commander John Nichols explained how veterans often let pride stand in the way of them asking for help and keep problems to themselves. Heroes to Hometown is different than other veteran aid programs because it actively seeks veterans in need, rather than waiting for them to ask for help, Nichols explained.
“There are so many people in need right now with the economy in the tank,” Donohue said. “One percent of American citizens are in the armed forces…22 percent of veterans are homeless. We need to help that one percent.”
Alec Pandaleon, (Past County Commander of the Dutchess County American Legion, the Department Service Officer for the Jewish War Veterans of the USA,
a member of the Marine Corps League and a National Service Officer for the Gold Star Wives of the USA), gave examples of how his community has joined together to help local veterans. He described a situation where a veteran needed a handicap accessible bathroom and within a short period of time the community had enough materials and resources to renovate five bathrooms.
He emphasized, “It is a just ask situation. But you need to tell people the specifics of what you need.”
Several other people made comments and announcements at the meeting. At the start of the meeting New York State Senator Greg Ball presented Legion officials with an $18,000 grant check to go towards improvements of the almost 100-year-old building. Read more on that here.
Kenny Lewis, a veteran and member of the Mt. Carmel Society announced that this spring the Society will be throwing a big picnic for military and their family to welcome them home from the war. Julie Bentley, director of Peekskill City Seniors Services was recognized for her efforts in running a quilt making program for veterans.
Jerry O’Shaughnessy, Post 274's Treasurer, announced the American Legion 5K run to be held this June 9, which will raise funds for the program.
New York State Assemblyman Bob Castelli talked about veterans legislation he has introduced and that is moving through the senate.
County Legislator John Testa declared March 3 Star Spangled Banner Day in Westchester county and gave the Legion a proclamation honoring them for their work.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef said she will host a show on the local cable government channel that explains Heroes to Hometowns to the viewing public.
Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi congratulated the American Legion on their work, said she is honored to be a part of the program and looking forward to helping. Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster, Councilman Darren Rigger and Councilwoman Kathie Talbot were also at the meeting.
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Editor's Note: This article has been adjusted from it's original form to accurately identify Alec Pandaleon's titles.