LVMAC News — Keystone Wounded Warriors Introduce Themselves

Council Speaker:  On 21 September 2011, Captain Samuel Johnson, USMC – who is assigned as an Instructor-Inspector to the newly relocated 150 personnel Battery I, 3-14 Regiment of Artillery (155 mm) which closed on the Lehigh Valley’s Navy-Marine Corps Reserve Center from Reading on 15 September – spoke to the Council on the origins and initiatives of the Keystone Wounded Warriors, a new nonprofit, charitable 501(c)(3) organization incorporated  in October of 2010 and just beginning to operate in the Lehigh Valley.

After noting the support from the Berks Community for the Toys for Tots program and noting the problems of returning veterans to the local community, he and Phil Spurgin co-founded the organization after seeing how the Wounded Warrior Project helped a 24 year old sergeant with physical problems resulting from initially undiagnosed traumatic brain injury.  Initially, they had conducted a race to support Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and presented them with a $10,000 check.  Later, they came to realize that although they wanted to continue to support, they also wanted to assure themselves assistance was rendered to local veterans desperately in need of help with local dollars as much as possible.

As of September 2011, this organization, which currently operates in eastern Pennsylvania, has raised about $75,000 for wounded warriors.  They have supported in little under a year about 20 veterans.  Some of the things they have done are:  finding jobs for two, replacing a living room suite of a low-income, disabled veteran, providing $200 gift cards for food, rendering financial management counseling and life mentoring, enrolling disabled veterans in one-year health club memberships (remaining physically active helps in transitioning and adapting).

There philosophy is never to give the same help twice.  The idea is to get the veteran to move on and be part of his/her own solution.  Nor do they see themselves as competition for other nonprofits, but rather supportive yet focused on its own community at the same time.

As an example, they work with WWP and have a contract partnership with them, and will continue to do so. This year they plan on or have donated $20,000 to the organization.  Meanwhile, they also desire to expand their operations into the western part of the state, forming another chapter or organization, to be responsive across the state.  Also if funding works out, they wish to add a housing renovation capability – at least its funding.

Their latest activity is is a Golf Clinic for wounded warriors to learn golf and to be held in Kutztown on 1 October.

In his concluding remarks, Captain Johnson, like both LVMAC and Pennsylvania’s Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs have also remarked, emphasized the importance of finding employment.  “When you do not have a job, bad things start happening.”  He pointed out that 13% of returning veterans reentering the civilian community are unemployed, significantly higher than historical averages.  “There is a stigma attached to these returning service members.  The majority of veterans return without PTSD issues [and most with PTSD are still work capable] and then there are the concerns about their redeployment.”  He believes it may have a larger role in the increasing suicide rates among returning veterans. In our society, when you do not have a job, bad things start happening.

For more information on this organization, go to www.keystonewarriors.com .

Operation JOVE The team is forming up for this excellent program with new committee members.  Dave Newton, who has been suffering from ill health and hence the delay in an earlier start-up, is looking to a major organizing meeting in October or early November.  Meanwhile, Joe Prusak of the Department of Labor and Industry is today at the annual Pennsylvania Industrial Council job fair at Agricultural Hall in Allentown to assist veterans in finding employment..

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing:  Trout Unlimited – Hokendaqua in partnership with LVMAC, will conduct its third major PHWFF event of the year on Saturday, October 8, 2011, in Allentown on the Little Lehigh Creek, just north of Robin Hood Dell bridge in the Little Lehigh Park(way).   Rain date is 9 October.  Our blogsite provides the details and how to pre-register.

Homelessness:  The Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee will be meeting with Pat DiLuzio, our new Homelessness Subcommittee Chair, next week on re-scoping our homelessness program, with the view to enlarging it.  Past efforts have emphasized employment training and discretionary items in support of that goal, such as transportation.  The result this year was adding the Lehigh County Conference of Church’s Permanent Employment Program (PEP) when it trains veterans. This year we committed ourselves to $15.5K in funding, bringing us back to 2008 levels of funding after a couple of bad years for funding.  We are not out of the woods regarding regaining our position in fundraising, but it is time to broaden our horizons as we recover.

Veterans Sanctuary: VFW District 8 presented a donation of $220 to Veterans Sanctuary’s Robert Csandl at the September Council Meeting, who expressed his heartfelt thanks for the local support of the VFW and the community; and then went onto elaborate on some coming events and to announce that they are currently serving five veterans as of 22 September and expect to serve more soon.  It’s only one of several which have come from the VFW:  the state organization presented a check for $2200, collected from its various posts across the state, at its Mid-Winter Conference.

LVMAC remains concerned about how the VA intends to partner with this organization in a meaningful way which benefits the client.  It has heard VISN-4 plans of meeting with Veterans Sanctuary to discuss alternative funding in November.  It believes the VA must find some way to help fund residential therapeutic community efforts such as this, which do not currently exist within the VA network of care.  Current congressional actions in the form of law may be curtailing the VA from doing the right thing.

Judith’s Reading Room will officially begin providing books on 19 October.  There will be an event at Veterans Sanctuary on that day to mark the occasion.  That relationship was originally arranged through the efforts of our member organization, VVA Chapter 415.  Yet another group, which has worked with our Blue Star Mothers, has now expressed interest in supporting Veterans Sanctuary.  It is the Nam Knights, an important motorcycle organization in our valley.  This highlights both the importance of having a regional organization like the LVMAC to bring disparate organizations together in support of what should be efforts in common in the Lehigh Valley veterans community – whether small ones or large – and the important role veterans organizations still serve in their communities.  The characterization of veterans groups as “drinking clubs” is an unfair one and forgets their origins.  Indeed, most veterans organizations do not even have a bar.

Military Support:  The “family PTSD educational booklet”, a collaboration with the original author and LVMAC which added a local resource guide to it, has just received the author’s blessing and is now at the printers.  It has been a long journey to produce a decent product.

Supporting the Homefront”, a family, psycho-educational program operated by Treatment Trends, which we are sponsoring, kicks off 27 September.  See the brochure.  Spread the word.  We need to get to the clients now, not later.  This is a high risk venture, but we know this program has value based upon experiences related to us.  It does not replace DoD efforts, but rather supplements them and provides an offline alternative, which we are finding important.  While not a formal counseling program, SOFAR and Give an Hour have proved the value of such offline resources.

LVMAC is asking VFW units in the area if they have used its Unmet Needs Program locally.  It is an excellent resource but we are unsure of its use locally.

If your chapter or post is not involved in an LVMAC community project, and you wish to be, talk to us.  Do not sit there on the sidelines.   

Health Care in our Community with the VA (HOCVA):  The CEO, Dr. Swinfard, of Lehigh Valley Hospital Network will be talking to us in October here at the Council on the “Downstream Health Effects of War.”

We plan of creating a new subcommittee to press for greater efforts in the way of VA-Community partnerships.   One area of interest is physician education on veterans and their problems. This is particularly important in Reserve Communities.   The VA, on whom we depend in this area, has not been out in front in this area.  Another concern is the unfair requirement to drive or be transported to Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center – and sometimes further from there – wasting a working man’s day or days, for advanced services when a host of first-class medical resources now exist in our Lehigh Valley.  The times have changed and the VA needs to change with them, rather than to be always so hard-site intensive, even while admitting hospital area coverage can be a problem (the rural area initiative, which should be redefined as the long travel-distance shortening initiative.)

The Scranton Vet Center, which is responsible for the Lehigh Valley,  continues to fail to make the impact in our area as it does in the Wyoming Valley, and no relief is expected.

Local Fundraising:  Ashly Moyer 5K Race for Freedom went off well on 3 September.  There were about 300 participants. We will seek its continual improvement, now that it has become an LVMAC sponsored event.  We are meeting with its chairman on 22 September to discuss finances and funding distributions.

Governmental Affairs:  We will be talking with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs this month about the State Department of Veterans Affairs legislation we are proposing through Senator Browne.  It is time to reintroduce the legislation and we have solicited their input to improving the bill.

The Pennsylvania War Veterans Council, a little known association representing PA’s veterans, has decided upon these legislative priorities for the coming session:

–  Full funding of Act 66  which provides funding to veterans organizations for additional accredited service officers to supplement County Directors of Veterans Affairs, upon which the state primarily depends for claims services.
–  Continued funding of Pennsylvania’s DAV vans program required to transport veterans to VA  services
–  A new small games of chance bill to assist home associations (SB 369 and 444)
–  Modify the real estate tax exemption program to include DIC and KIA dependents; change the waiver limits to apply to household income rather than personal income (SB 572 and 385)
–  Marking the driver’s license with a “veteran” indentifier as five or six other states have done  (SB 165)

DMVA:  Meanwhile, as reported in our last Council Meeting, the Deputy AG for Veterans Affairs, BG(PA) Michael Gould, will focus on employment and the creation of a foundation to better support our veterans.  As you should know by now, our emergency assistance fund is almost a joke and the other state benefits programs that do exist affect very few veterans.  The state needs to expand its vision of what veterans services really is about.

We figure the Adjutant General may have a fight on his hands to provide the increased, necessary staffing to the newly renovated Southeast Home as planned in this budget climate. He intends to do the right thing. The question is, will the legislature do the right thing?

DoD/VA News:

We will be attending Wilkes-Barres Veterans Advisory Council Meeting on 29 September.  If you have issues, not of a personal nature, that you would like brought up, contact us.

Rumor Control:  There has been a rumor circulating that Northampton County does not intend to fill the County Director of Veterans Affairs position.  As you know Dave Graf retired 31 July. This is not true. The county has just been slow in getting the hiring process going.  We advise Northampton County’s veterans organizations to inquire of progress if you hear nothing soon. You should take an interest in the matter.  Northampton County cannot afford not having a County Director, considering its performance record.

TSGLI extended beyond those who served in OEF/OIF:  As of 1 October, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is extending retroactive traumatic injury benefits to service members who suffered qualifying injuries during the period Oct. 7, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2005, regardless of the geographic location where the injuries occurred.  It means you know longer are required to have served in the OEF/OIF operational theaters. This primarily affects the receipt of TSGLI insurance benefit.

Other Announcements:  For the latest in announcements brought up at our council meeting, go to the LVMAC events calendar, “How You Can Help” page, and the LVMAC Tidbits “events” tag.

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26 September 2011

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