Help our veterans: military men and women need our support
Vets H.E.R.D. (Helping Empower Returning and Disabled Veterans) is a two-year old organization based in the Lancaster-Depew area, with an upcoming fundraiser planned to raise awareness about veterans’ issues and struggles. The Spring Salute to Veterans event will be held from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 21 at Magruders Restaurant, located at 4995 Broadway in Depew.
Diane Bove, in charge of member relations at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, and Phil Arnold, president and founder of Vets H.E.R.D., have been working side-by-side to make this event a reality.
“I just like to help out,” Bove said.
Bove plans between two and three events a year at Magruders, which is her family's restaurant. This is the first event planned to help out Vets H.E.R.D, however. Bove has family that served in the military, including a cousin who still suffers from flashbacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Bove is still seeking donations to be raffled off at the event, which will also include vendor tables from veteran-owned businesses.
"Usually with Hope for Cats and other animals, it seems people donate and are more open to cats and dogs, that's what I’m getting,” Bove said. “I thought donations would be flying in for this, and they're not. But the cats and the dogs, my phone would be ringing non-stop.”
One problem that veterans coming home are experiencing is homelessness - women especially.
"There’s a wide range of issues,” said Arnold. “The most right now is employment; once they’ve been discharged, they are taking advantage of education programs but we're not dealing with employment issues, and also their health issues. PTSD is a hidden problem."
On the Vets H.E.R.D. website, veterans can be linked to resources in five categories: employment, financial, healthcare, housing, and legal, all separated by the county in which they live. One goal of the organization, Arnold says, is to form another location and also satellite offices.
"A lot of these guys have been pushed to the side," Arnold said. "I was the project manager for the Extreme Makeover [Home Edition] here in Buffalo. It was Veteran's Day 2009. There were some veterans standing behind me. They were talking about the inefficiencies of the VA. They were Vietnam-era people. I was awestruck, not being a veteran, but turned and said, ‘You guys can't get this because you didn't qualify?’ I always had the assumption that if you’re in one day of conflict or 300 days, you’re still being shot at. But that's not true; you have to qualify time-wise to get certain things."
Vets H.E.R.D. is not a “hand out” system, but rather gives veterans the skills and self-sufficient motivations to seek the help they need over time. Whether it be medical care or a safe place to live upon returning home, Vets H.E.R.D. gives veterans young and old the information and resources to do so. Arnold has been introducing himself members of the community, having participated in the Veterans Day weekend parade last year and this year, and planning a celebration for veterans coming home now.
"During World War I and II, people had to sacrifice even if they weren’t in the military,” Arnold said. “The kid had one pair of shoes, or the food and gas rationing... everything was focused on the war. Here, from the Korean War on, it’s been de-centralized and not really a part of us."
There are 80,000 soldiers in New York State coming home from our two current conflicts right now. There are between six and 12 homeless female vets in Western New York.
"There’s going to be a lot of needs and issues six months to a year from now,” Arnold said.
Arnold has been working on a project with Marlene Roll, former director for Erie County Veterans Services, who now works in Monroe County. They want to open a women and children’s veteran homeless shelter in Lancaster, which would be the first of its kind.
"Bring them out in the suburbs, not in the city because they’re bringing their children,” Arnold said. “The city school system is failing - at least out here, we have a fighting chance. Even with the veteran males, you’re putting them on Main St. in bad areas. When they walk out, there’s all the drugs and alcohol.”
Vets H.E.R.D. has truly filled a void in the Western New York region, and is actively helping veterans of all ages acclimate to the life they had before they served in the military. Our military men and women should not be ignored once they return from duty – in fact, that is usually when they need help and support the most. For more information, visit www.vetsherd.com.