DAVE VENDITTA AND HIS WAR STORY PROJECT
He got interested in the subject in the mid-1990’s while trying to find out how his cousin, Nicky, a twenty year old helicopter pilot, had actually died in Vietnam within eleven days of his arrival. Venditta was a 15 year old at the time of the funeral, but memories of his cousin haunted him. In the end, he discovered the official version of death by enemy action was untrue. Instead, Nicky had actually died at the hands of his own while undergoing an in-country orientation. Whether or not the sergeant pulling the pin of the grenade in a demonstration of its safe use actually new it was a live grenade or thought it was a dud or practice grenade was never determined, but three died as a result. One of them was Nicky. However, in the process of relaying the news to the family, his cousins and uncles began recounting their own war stories.
Out of this came the realization, he said, “… that ordinary people do real and extraordinary things in war …” but regrettably their deeds are mostly forgotten because “[m]ost come back, take off the uniform, and go back to work …,” getting on with life and storing their memories to themselves. “It is the way of the veteran,” he added, but he also believed, “… their personal strengths needed to be recorded so succeeding generations can be amazed at what they did … and know what these veterans often sacrificed.” He thinks his work is important to both our understanding of the importance of veterans and our understanding of us as a nation. Also, he felt it a way to “pay back” these veterans as an appreciative citizen.
Thus, he started to record the stories of common veterans, “shaping and crafting them,” but always telling their stories in their very own words. Over twelve years, ninety stories have been written. While they have been predominantly the stories of World War II participants, he has done his fair share for Vietnam War veterans, some Cold War veterans, and a World War I survivor; and has written about both men and women who have donned the uniform. Last year, The Morning Call decided to publish 34 of these stories in a book entitled, War Stories in Their Own Words. “Half are now dead but not their stories or memory of them,” he said.
Venditta pointed out that he makes no money from the sale of the book. More important to him is that his stories go to the World War II Museum in New Orleans and the Library of Congress, not just The Morning Call. He has also seen the beneficial effect of his writing on the veterans who provided the stories – a rekindling of pride, sometimes a release of demons, a way to tell their families of what they have done (which is often so difficult otherwise).
He regrets that he cannot do more of stories than he does. Since it is not his primary job, there are so many on the waiting list. As a result, he has such a thick file that it is hard to choose the next story. Nevertheless, he manages to write at least four or five a year to get them published in his newspaper during the Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor, and Battle of the Bulge periods.
After many questions and praise for his work, he remarked upon the brotherhood he has noted among veterans created through shared sacrifice. “While some have heart-wrenching stories, not all are terrible,” he said, “and some things help offset – the camaraderie, for example.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH CONTRIBUTIONS:
The Veterans Affairs Committee has started its quarterly fund distributions for this month. It expects to expense about $23,000. That will bring the cumulative distributions to about $36,000 for its programs and support of other organizations. We are anticipating spending about $47,000 by the end of the year, the amount currently available to it. [Editor’s Note: The amount does not include other expenditures for other LVMAC activities.] As LVMAC grows in membership (now 172 members strong) and gains ground in its community, it has had an increasingly significant impact on our military-veterans community through its activities. Having funds to assist or shape the direction of others in the Leigh Valley to the benefit of our military veterans and their families is a boon and we are grateful to our donors and sponsors.
SCHOLARSHIPS HAVE BEEN AWARDED
Nine $1,000 scholarships have been awarded. The original plan was $6,000 but we bumped it up, since there was need and we had additional funds available. Phil Hublitz and Bob Rothenberg will be briefing the Council on the program and recognizing the awardees and their families at the August council meeting. Seems our money is being well spent in changing lives for the better … and most of the money goes to local schools. Some scholarship programs cannot say that.
Keep an eye out for our next Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing event coming in October in the Little Lehigh Parkway.
ATTENTION TO HOMELESSNESS
We have learned one of our newest members, the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living, has just won a VA Supportive Services to Veterans Family grant. We are awaiting news from the Lehigh County Conference of Churches on their emerging needs regarding veterans. They obtained a HUD grant which can be used for housing of veterans and others. Something our Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center never told us until we attended a State Veterans Council was that while the HUD-VASH supportive housing voucher program covers all the expenses for permanent housing, it does not provide for the security deposit needed by the landlord. This information came from Mr. Moreland, Director of the VISN-4 network. We’re looking into programming for this need to remedy a potential impediment to housing, when warranted. Low incomes/low paying jobs create additional support problems not thought of by most of us – even when we are speaking of veterans. It proves a point that has become apparent to us with time. The VA is incapable of solving the veterans homelessness issue alone, without a community participating.
BIG DAY FOR HEALTH CARE IN OUR COMMUNITY
Through the efforts of Eric Johnson and the newly minted Veterans Affairs Liaison Officers (VALOs), on 19 July we convene a top level, health care provider executive luncheon meeting where we will update them on our joint effort with their organizations on the Healthcare in Our Community progress for the purpose of securing their cooperation for some vital, near term actions. All the CEO’s of those participating with us – and that includes all the hospital networks in the Valley – will be there.
While it is a closed meeting, the media has been invited and they are coming. Also a briefer from Dept. of Defense and TRICARE North will attend. Council members should remember a TRICARE briefing at the Council some months ago and a follow-on discussion on some of its problems. It led to a continuation of that dialogue. We intend make “Joining Forces” more than just words in our area.
As of now we are anticipating the Wilkes-Barre VAMC director will attend. We have obtained an official “unofficial” commitment – strange organization. There will be representation in any event.
OPERATION JOVE/EMPLOYMENT UPDATE
We have put Operation JOVE on hiatus until we find more clients. Meanwhile, Max Harris, another new member and a current war veteran, on his own initiative, is proposing another sort of effort to encourage veterans to both work and reside in the Lehigh Valley. It would take an entrepreneurial training approach. On 18 July, we met with him and Todd Watkins, a professor at the Baker Institute of Lehigh University to discuss possibilities. We’ve gone on record to state we are interested in assisting where we can, for it benefits both veterans and the community if he and others can pull this off. Also Sam Jones, a Veterans Employment Representative, located at Lehigh Valley CareerLink announced they had conducted their very first Veterans Job Club meeting the other day.
COMMUNITY EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH EXPANDS ITS SEARCH FOR BEST OF TYPE PROGRAMS
The mission statement has been settled upon. Robin Carmody has set up a meeting with the National Guard Family Programs coordinator in August. She has also outreached to Susan Smith of Operations Military Kids to find out more about them and if their programs can be tailored to our needs. Those teachers she has contacted are receptive to the idea of our involvement with them. Cordelia Miller, well known to our community through her former Red Cross position,has agreed to join the committee. If you are interested in joining in the effort, contact Robin. We are in the early stages and could use team members.
VETERANS SANCTUARY SEEKS ITS REBIRTH
Treatment Trends continues to seek alternatives for use of the building. It is going to visit the Philadelphia Multi-service and Educational Center on 25 July to explore alternative ideas during this period of Pause. In addition it is exploring a legislative solution. Frankly, for whatever sound excuse given or contrived, our state government, our local Lehigh County government and the Department of Veterans Affairs in this state should be ashamed of themselves for contributing to the collapse of this fine program, as originally conceived. It met a need using a proven approaches to solving chronic, co-morbid injuries of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (let’s not prettify the problem by renaming it) with drug and alcohol abuse.
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS – MORE OF THE SAME
Effectively the state legislature is on hiatus when it comes to veterans issues during the summer. A necessary law was not passed on time.
As we stated last time, State Senate Bill 1531, which would amend Titles 51 (Military Affairs) and 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes and would establish a Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund and also identify a veteran as a veteran on his vehicle license registration, was introduced by Sen. Baker on 29 May. It remains in the Appropriations Committee as of 13 June. Yet the budget has been passed. It means delay in increased funding to Act 66 veterans service officer program and also to nonprofits which assist veterans. And we have just found out, that other than for donations, it is a one-shot infusion of cash from the Scotland School for Veterans Children sale (and only a portion of that) and the unfortunate demise of the Emergency Assistance Fund, which should have been overhauled instead. Another nonprofit involved in veterans homelessness and of wide repute has stated the state does very little for its veterans [(in a meaningful way]. If there are flaws in the bill – and there are – it is time to get them corrected. We have heard that Rep. Christiana is about to introduce a similar bill in the House. We have not seen it. Hopefully he will have better luck than Senator Baker.
And before we leave this topic, we hope it will primarily be used to support those who do real, dig-in-the-dirt work for veterans in their communities such as the Philadelphia Multi-service Center , the Veterans Leadership Program of Western PA, Impact Services and the Lehigh Valley’s own Veterans Sanctuary (which could be reborn).
Meanwhile our state MOAA is fighting a proposed usury laws proposed by the General Assembly in regard to payday lending, House Bill 2191. More proof our legislators’ deeds belie their words of concern?
There have been a series of reports recently on the how well we as a nation are handling the mental health problems of our returning service members. We’re still wading through a study from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, but a National Mental Illness Association report calls for more community involvement and use of its resources, more cooperation between government and the private sector to address shortages in mental health/behavioral health professionals. The upshot of all these reports seems to be we can do much better than we have been doing.
Separately, the VA released last week more details on its new compensation processing model, which it is implementing in sixteen regional offices but not ours yet. All we are seeing is the introduction of the idea of formal tracks. One of them is to handle a limited number of fully developed claims; another to handle the types of claims which have received notoriety; and the last track to handle all the rest. We hope there is more to this more than simple triage. In its own words, this “segmented lanes” process – as the VA calls it – consists of:
- Express: Claims that have only one or two medical conditions, or have all the supporting documentation, medical evidence and service records needed for an expeditious rating decision—referred to as “fully developed claims”.
- Special Operations: Claims requiring special handling because of the unique circumstances of the Veterans. These include financial hardship; homelessness; serious wounds, injuries or illnesses; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder associated with military sexual trauma; and former prisoner of war status.
- Core: Claims with more than two medical conditions, or those that will need additional evidence to make a compensation decision.
We ourselves are now wondering if Jim Strickland, who has worked claims issues at the national level for years and has continued the VA Watchdog blog site, is right. The backlog of claims has gotten worse rather than better, while the number of press announcements on improvements has increased. “The Department of Veterans Affairs is hopelessly broken and the really big problem is until Congress acts decisively, VA will not repair itself,” he recently told Human Events, “They need to remodel the Department of Veterans Affairs. They need to reorganize the VA and give them a new mandate.”
As of 18 July 2012