We often speak of the debt of gratitude America owes its military veterans. However, veterans issues are generally not in the forefront of community consciousness here in Larchmont/Mamaroneck, in large part because we have a relatively small number of recent veterans compared to communities in other parts of the country. Speakers on a distinguished and diverse panel highlighted several ways the Larchmont/Mamaroneck community can support its “hidden heroes” at a recent meeting of the Local Summit.
Connection to Services
Panelists spoke about the importance of helping veterans connect to the services that will help them re-enter civilian life. Gerald F. Culliton, Director of the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System, pointed out that new vets usually just want to get back to work and return to their old lives, and will often not seek out needed services. Friends and family members play a vital role in convincing veterans to seek services. Culliton went on to speak about how the VA has transformed itself in the last 10 or 12 years into a “tremendous health care system” for both medical and mental health issues. He cautioned that federal funding for our VA hospitals is based on the number of veterans using these services. Declining usage means budget cuts.
Vito J. Pinto, Director of the Westchester County Veterans Service Agency, described how his office acts as a conduit to help Westchester County veterans identify and access services. He asked the audience to help get the word out about the upcoming Veterans Town Hall Meeting being hosted by the County on Tuesday, March 29th.
Besides providing resource information and referrals, the Veterans Service Agency also spearheads initiatives to recognize and assist veterans in the county. One of these is the Find and Assist Veterans of Record (“FAVOR”) Program which signs merchants up to provide discounts of their choosing to honorably discharged veterans. FAVOR cards are now available to qualifying vets, but the agency is seeking greater participation among area merchants.
Two of the panellists, Gerald Culliton and Burt Corwin, Commander of VFW Post 1156 in Mamaroneck, spoke about the importance of jobs and job training for returning veterans. Culliton said the community has to be ready to employ these young men and women or they will move out of this area, and this would be a terrible loss. He challenged community members to “look purposefully to hire veterans.” Pinto added that the Veterans Service Agency can also help veterans receive the educational benefits guaranteed by the GI Bill.
David F. Everett, a local Attorney and Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve (Ret.), spoke about a jarring sense of unreality when he returned home from Iraq to headlines about the investigation into the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Everett pointed out that although we have men and women risking their lives in military service on a daily basis, popular culture remains generally focused on very trivial matters. Both Everett and Corwin were impassioned in their appeal that when you see a veteran, thank him or her for their service, stressing the powerful impact of this simple act of gratitude. Everett spoke of a meaningful moment when the Vietnam Veterans of America group came and greeted his returning unit. The Vietnam vets told him that because of the lack of thanks they received, they had vowed to never allow the same thing to happen to another veteran. He closed by reminding the audience to remember both the dead and the living in their thoughts and prayers.
To contact the Westchester County Veterans Service Agency, call (914) 995-2145, go to veterans.westchestergov.com, or find them on Facebook under “Westchester County Veterans Service Agency.” The VA Hudson Valley Health Care System can be reached at (877) 838-7691, or found at www.hudsonvalley.va.gov.
The meeting was sponsored by the Larchmont Mamaroneck Local Summit, a non-partisan citizen’s group, as part of its monthly discussion series. All are invited to meetings of the Local Summit, which are intended to inform and encourage an exchange of ideas and possible solutions. You will find the group at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck on the third Tuesday of the month at 7:45 a.m.
—Article submitted by the Larchmont Mamaroneck Local Summit; photos by John Gitlitz