Cutting Veterans’ Services – It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

Cutting Veterans’ Services – It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

By Karl Rohde, director, Putnam County Veterans Service Agency

In 1991, Governor Mario Cuomo attempted to reduce his New York State budget by cutting services to the Veterans of Putnam County.  Today, the legacy continues as his son and current NYS Governor, Andrew Cuomo, attempts a similar strategy.

First, a bit of history — Back in 1991 the New York Division of Veterans Affairs announced that they were going to close the Putnam County office for budgetary reasons.  The closing of the office was going to save about $50,000 out of a $5 Million Budget that had to be cut by $500,000.  Fortunately, Putnam succeeded in mobilizing its Veterans and won a reprieve. As part of the new deal, the Putnam County office would remain open, but the County would foot the bill to house the NY State Division Service officer, and provide secretarial assistance for the two days the service officer was on site.  In addition, the County would also provide clerical assistance on the other three days of the week to schedule appointments, as well as providing phone service and computer access at no charge to the State.

After the State’s second attempt to close the Putnam Office in April 2015 was thwarted, I formally requested, as Director of the Putnam County Veterans Service Agency and provider of free office space, clerical support and amenities to the NYS Division of Veterans Affairs, that we receive notification when and if the Putnam Office would be closed. That following January of 2016, the Division closed the office.  Putnam Veterans Services had to reschedule an estimated 50 Veteran client appointments to other dates at a location in Castle Point, which is about 25 miles from our office in Carmel.  Again, we fought and won to reopen our office, so our Veterans, many of whom are elderly and disabled, would not have to bear the burden of inconvenient, costly and unnecessary travel to meet with a Veterans Service Officer to apply for compensation due to military service.

The punishment continued in 2016 when the Division tried to limit Putnam to one day per week with a Veterans Service Officer.  That was also stopped when we proved the need in Putnam for at least two days per week, if not more.

Now in May of 2017, just weeks before Memorial Day, and the New York State Division, at the insistence of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is keen on denying services to the Veterans of Putnam County again.

In order to save money, the Putnam Office will be closed.  This is nonsense. The Division has to save $300,000 in the current budget.  Notwithstanding that the Governor wants to cut his budget on behalf of Veterans, this closing makes little sense.  Our Veterans Service Officer, Brennan Mahoney, will still be employed 5 days per week by the Division.  He will do all those days at Castle Point alongside another fulltime service officer at the same location.  The Veterans of Putnam, Northern Westchester and Southern Dutchess will now be forced to commute to Castle Point to see Brennan even though there is a second service officer already covering the Castle Point location – and where is the cost savings?  It should also be noted that while the clerk at Castle Point is paid by the State of New York, the clerk in Putnam County still costs the State of New York nothing.

The travel expense and inconvenience to these Veterans has not been considered in the least.  The age of the Veteran or the disability that makes travel difficult has not been weighed in this decision.

Why are these statewide cuts being aimed at the very group of people that the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs is mandated to serve?  To put a fine point on it, why is the Division targeting its own clients?  There are no suggested cut backs in management headcount or salary.  No mention of trying to lower the costs in areas where they rent and or lease office buildings.  Rather than a knee jerk response, why weren’t the cuts more thoughtfully vetted?

Veterans and family members who wish to learn answers to these questions should contact Eric J. Hesse, director, New York State Division of Veterans Affairs at (518) 474-6114.

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley

We are infinitely proud of what we have to offer to our Veterans and their families at the Putnam County Veterans Service Agency.  We are persistently trying to expand access to a myriad of services.  In recent years we have expanded to have a psychologist from the Vet Center of Danbury meet with Veterans on a weekly basis at the Agency office.  Monthly the VA Hudson Valley Outreach Coordinator is in the office to offer on-the-spot registration for VA health care, appointment scheduling and to answer questions regarding the VA.  We are now proud to welcome the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV) to our office each month.

The Legal Services of the Hudson Valley will be providing free civil legal services to those who have served under the auspices of their “Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project” In LSHV’s own words “They served their country-they deserve equal access to justice at home”.  The passion for justice they have will protect Veterans and their family’s right to the basic necessities of life as guaranteed by law.  There are a host of areas that they will offer civil legal representation in: housing, consumer affairs, Social Securities and SSI Disabilities claims, elder law, domestic violence and public benefits. Unique for Veterans and service members they offer assistance with Veteran Benefits appeals, military discharge upgrades, and military record corrections. LSHV will be at the Veterans Service Agency on the second Wednesday of the month from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

The more services that we can have in a single office provides the Veteran and the Veterans family with a one stop shopping venue.  Again we welcome LSHV to our family.

Karl Rohde Presents First Public Reading of “Hero’s Highway” at Arts on the Lake

Karl Rohde Presents First Public Reading of “Hero’s Highway” at Arts on the Lake

KENT, NY (November 16, 2016) – On Veteran’s Day, The Arts on the Lake, Lake Writers Group hosted its annual reading.  Members of the group gathered to take in an array of writing genres from their peers, including memoirs, poetry, novel excerpts and more.  This year, the event happened to coincide with Veterans Day.  In honor of the sacrifices of the nation’s brave military men and women who serve, the group invited Karl Rohde, also a writer, and the Director of Putnam County’s Veterans Service Agency, to participate.book-cover-actual-jpg

“We could not have been happier to have Karl participate in such a meaningful way at our event,” said group leader, Tom Kersting . “Karl helped us honor those in service to our country and by sharing  several poems that he wrote while serving in Vietnam, he enabled attendees to connect with that experience.”

Rohde’s poetry is part of a Putnam Veterans’ anthology of artistic expression that was recently published under the title of Hero’s Highway. According to John Bourges, the program coordinator for the Dwyer Vet2Vet Program in Putnam, the book was created as a project for the PFC Joseph P Dwyer Vet 2 Vet Outreach Program of Putnam County.

“Our Veterans Outreach Studio meets on the first Wednesday of every month in Patterson to explore veterans’ creativity and artistic talents.  The catalyst for creating the book was to share the unique art and creativity coming out of these meetings with veteran peers at the Veterans Chow Down that took place on November 1st.”

“The response to the book has been tremendous, says Bourges. “We are in our second printing and plan to use the book as a fundraising tool to support other events and activities for our vets. For more information about the book and to obtain a copy, please visit the Dwyer Vet2Vet of Putnam website at www.dwyervet2vetputnam.org/upcoming-events.html.

 

Fresh Connect: The New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs has launched the third consecutive year of its Fresh Connect Checks program

Fresh Connect: The New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs has launched the third consecutive year of its Fresh Connect Checks
program. Through this program, Veterans, Servicemembers, and their immediate family members (including surviving spouses of Veterans) are eligible to receive one set of 10 Fresh Connect Checks, each one bearing the cash equivalency of $2. These checks are redeemable with
participating vendors at farmers markets across New York State for fresh produce and other fresh food products. Fresh Connect Checks are available at every New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs office, and can be distributed only by Division of Veterans’ Affairs employees. Individuals interested in a Division of Veterans’ Affairs Veterans Benefits Advisor attending an event with Fresh Connect Checks to distribute are strongly encouraged to contact the Division at (518) 474-6114.

Veteran Suicides – Good News?

The Department of Veteran Affairs recently issued a report say-ing that on average, 20 Veterans a day took their own lives. This number is down slightly from the previously used number of 22. Officials however are wary of saying the problem of Veteran sui-cide is getting better.
It seems that using a better method of collecting and ana-lyzing the data is giving a clearer picture of the problem. The do not want to make com-parisons to past studies and point out that 20 is not a good number even though it is slightly lower than the old esti-mates.
“Twenty a day is not that dif-ferent from 22,” said Dr. David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs . “It is far too high.”
The rate at which Veterans commit suicide is many times higher than among the non-veteran population. The suicide rates for both Veterans and no-veterans continue to grow but the rates are grow-ing faster among the Veterans. This is especially true among the female Veterans.
The attention on veteran suicide comes at a time when the VA has reported a huge upswing in Veterans seeking medical care as they have returned from the current conflicts However, the VA data continues to show that older Veterans make up most suicides. About two-thirds of all veterans who died by suicide were age 50 and over.
We need to get these numbers down. If you are feeling pressures you can’t handle, reach out. If you are worried about someone else, reach out. One Veteran suicide a day is too many.
It takes the courage and strength of a warrior to ask for help…

If you are a Veteran who is in crisis or know a Veteran who is in crisis call the Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-TALK (8255) and Press 1 for Veterans
If you are not in crisis but need some support the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet 2 Vet Program of Putnam County is just a phone call away. This is a peer support group of Veterans helping Veterans. Call them at 845-278-VETS (8387).
(If you would like one of the pins pictured above stop by our office. We have a limited supply available.)

safeTALK is a half-day alertness training that prepares anyone over the age of 15, regardless of prior experience or training, to become a suicide-alert helper. Most people with thoughts of suicide don’t truly want to die, but are struggling with the pain in their lives. Through their words and actions, they invite help to stay alive. safeTALK-trained helpers can recognize these invitations and take action by connecting them with life-saving intervention resources, such as caregivers trained in ASIST.
Since its development in 2006, safeTALK has been used in over 20 countries around the world, and more than 200 selectable video vignettes have been produced to tailor the program’s audio-visual component for diverse audienc-es. safeTALK-trained helpers are an important part of suicide-safer communi-ties, working alongside intervention resources to identify and avert suicide risks.

Training features:

  • Presentations and guidance from a LivingWorks registered trainer
  • Access to support from a local community resource person
  • Powerful audiovisual learning aids
  • The simple yet effective TALK steps: Tell, Ask, Listen, and KeepSafe
  • Hands-on skills practice and development

Art, Brennan and Karl are all safeTalk Trainers.
(We encourage you or you organization to contact us to set up a training. We have trained people in the American Legion in Patterson, Arms Acers and at the Putnam Hospital under the auspices of the Putnam County Suicide Task Force. Please set up a training, there is no cost.)

Dying Veteran Emotional Last Request

Dying Veteran Emotional Last Request

By Steve Goetsch, Public Affairs Specialist, South Texas Veterans Health Care System, San Antonio

Like many other young men in the late 1960s, Roberto Gonzalez answered when Uncle Sam called. He was drafted by the Army for service in June of 1969, a week after finishing school. Gonzalez, from South Texas, found himself going to Army basic training instead of working on the family ranch and going to summer grad-uation parties. Gonzalez was a member of the 25th Infantry, and on one mission, was selected to be on point during a patrol. What he didn’t know was they were walking into an am-bush of North Vietnamese soldiers lying in wait. They sprung up from a trench, firing on the 14-man squad. With Gonza-lez on point, he took the brunt of fire, being hit three times: through both lungs, a bullet hitting and shattering his leg be-low the knee, and the last striking his abdomen, fragmenting and hitting his spine, creating the shrapnel that led to his paralysis. He described his wounds with much less bravado and even a little sense of humor. “I had three shots with an AK-47 and had a thousand little ones,” Gon-zalez said. “I had holes all over my body, but I made it,” he said, grinning while describing the horrendous attack. The fighting was so intense, they transported him a few miles away to a landing zone (LZ) to be med-evac’d. Although the chopper was finally cleared to land, Gonzalez wasn’t in the clear yet. “Every time the chopper lifted off, my blood pressure dropped rapidly,” Gonzalez explained. He said they did this numerous times before they flew him out of the hot zone. Out of his original 14-man squad, Gonzalez was one of only three that had survived. The fellow soldiers he left behind left an imprint on his memory, even 45 years after he returned home, making his face sullen as he described the experience. “I saw a lot of bad things over there,” he murmured. “I saw a lot of dead people.”
Gonzalez finally came back to the U.S. in 1970, spending the remainder of the year rehabilitating until he could be safely moved. Along the way, he made stops at hospitals in Saigon and Japan, before ending up in Memphis, Tenn. at a specialized VA hospital for para-plegics. He rehabilitated for 18 months until he final
got back to Premont, Tex.

He needed continuous care, and the only avail-ability was a hospital in Houston and returns to Mem-phis for his specialty care. All of that changed when Gonzalez could be seen at the newly-established Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital that was dedi-cated in November 1973. The new hospital was more convenient for him and he became one of its very first patients.
Besides being hospitalized in 1975 for kidney issues, Rosario said Gonzalez was rather healthy, work-ing the 20,000 acre ranch near Premont that has been in the family since the late 1800’s.
When Gonzalez fell ill again in 2015, they transported him to a hospital in Corpus Christi, but were delighted the stay was temporary, and that they would be returning to Audie Murphy. “There are some really good nurses in this ward,” Ro-sario said of the spinal cord unit. Gonzalez added that he wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. Rosario thinks the specialized training the spinal cord staff receives makes the difference. In the fall of 2015, after a couple months at Audie, the Gonzalez family held a special birthday party for Gonzalez and his younger brother George, who shares the same birthday. They brought enough food and drink to supply a small army because they included the staff and inpatients on the ward they consider part of their family. “We’ve met so many great families from guys that have been hurt with spinal cord injuries,” Rosario said. Rosario herself was a fixture on the ward, staying nearby at the South Texas VA Fisher House by the campus. His moth-er, Elodia, who might have been responsi-ble for her son’s resiliency, came up fre-quently, despite being three hours from the hospital. “His mom is 92 years old,” Ro-sario exclaimed. “She is a feisty lady, and she is something else.” Does resilience come with spend-ing four decades in a wheelchair, refusing to give up, or is it bolstered by the 10 sup-portive siblings that help with the ranch and who drove from all over south Texas in inclement weather to celebrate their broth-ers’ birthdays? Whatever the case may be, one of the things that kept Gonzalez going were his horses.

Despite becoming fixtures at the hospital, and lauding the care they received there, there was only one place Gonzalez wanted to be…back on the ranch, with his horses. His face lit up when he talked about them. From traveling through several states to show and sell racehorses, to theshort-legged cows he raised and at-tempted to describe to a naïve city slicker. He missed his ranch and get-ting into his “big truck” every morn-ing and doing what he did for dec-ades, with his father and grandfather by his side. The Gonzalez family was holding down the ranch, awaiting his return. “They keep us informed,” Rosario said, speaking of the many nieces and nephews that stepped up in Gonzalez’s absence. This most recent visit to Audie was taking a toll on Gonza-lez. He was tired. It was a different Gonzalez than Rosario was used to. “He was very independent, it’s just recently that his body has worn down,” Rosario said. “He used to transfer on his own; he just started needing help.” Gonzalez experienced some complications and began losing his battle. He had liver prob-lems, and his kidneys began to shut down. The time came when the staff began to prepare the family. If Gonzalez couldn’t get to the ranch, the Gonzalez family wanted to bring the ranch to him. There were two horses that were favorites of Gonza-lez: Sugar and Ringo, but bringing them into a hospital would take some planning.

Dr. Seth Chandler, chief of Audie’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) unit, with Nurse Manager Louis Nwo-jo and their team, consulted with the family and worked out the logistics. With safety being paramount, the decision to facilitate the visit was granted. Nwojo said the team did a safety check of all medical devices, and brought the bed out to the parking lot and the two waiting equine friends to say goodbye. Surrounded by Rosario and his family, the horses gently greeted Gonzalez in a quiet, somber gather-ing. He passed away May 23, just two days later. Gonzalez leaves quite a legacy; Vietnam Veteran, Silver and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipi-ent, faithful husband of 40 years, the only Texas paraplegic horse trainer, Veteran of the Month and patriarch of one of the biggest, most supportive families you could ever meet…Roberto Gonzalez was not a casualty of war. Rest in peace, Roberto, and
thank you for your service.

Meet the Bozanic Family

Summer memories are special. Most of us should remember school assignments where we had to write about our summer vacation. Some of us took trips to exotic places, some stayed at home enjoying the local scene and actually some of us worked the entire summer. There is not one of us that could not narrate a unique memorable event that happened some summer long ago or a more recent summer event. All those memories are the fabric of American society.

If you will indulge me I am going to relate a very recent summer experience that might not be the type of summer memory that you might have tucked away in your mind.
To set the scene my wife Irene welcomed our three grandsons from Buffalo to spend a week with us each summer. A much needed visit for us and a respite for the parents of 10 year old twin boys and their 5 year old brother. We also include our 7 year old granddaughter and her 5 year old brother on the various scheduled events, Two days at beautiful Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park were on the list of things to do. Bike and scooter riding and 2 trips to Kent Recycling were also weaved into the daily to do list. The movie “The BFG” was part of the busy week. (I highly recommend that movie).

By the end of the week we packed the 3 Buffalo boys up and waved good bye to their cousins and began our (sorry about this) “shuffle to off to Buffalo. It was a slow shuffle. With stops at Howe Caverns, watching fireworks from the lawn of our motel in Cobleskill , bowling a few frames, mining for Herkimer Diamonds and several hours in motel pools. A well rounded and busy shuffle.

Why the long tedious diary of two Grandparents? Well the experience happened during the shuffle but I wanted to brag a bit about what we did with our grandchildren prior to my summer experience that I wish to relate. The experience happened at 7:00 AM at the Inn at Cobleskill while I was waiting for the boys to wake up to continue the shuffle. I was reading an article in a local newspaper the “Daily Star” of Oneonta. It was in the Lifestyle Section that I met the Bozanic clan.
In a time period where people need safe spaces, where college students claim undue stress because the name of a person running for president is scrawled on the sidewalk where every one receives a trophy it is time to “Meet the Bozanic Family”.

The parents John from Croatia and Marta from the Czech Republic were married in 1921. In 1933 they bought a farm in Worchester, NY and moved there with their 5 children. By 1942 there were 11 children but a major trauma to the family occurred with the birth of the 12th child. Marta was in distress with the birth of number 12. While they tried to walk the 3 miles to the doctors in a blizzard they were forced to turn back to the farm where she gave birth but passed away 2 days later. John was determined to raise his children and did so. Each daughter remembers being coming the mother figure after the oldest daughter moved out. They had no running water or electricity. To bathe they filled up a big washtub and the oldest to youngest took turns bathing.

Ten years later another disaster struck the Bozanics. A tractor turned over on top of the father and crushed him to death. They were now without parents. Six were still living at home. An older sister and her husband became legal guardians and a 19 year old brother remained on the farm to help run what had transitioned from a dairy farm to a
cauliflower farm. They remained together and worked together. School was their respite from the toils and tribulations of their everyday life.
They remember the hard work and hard times, they remember that one of the
bonuses of school were real toilets but they also remember there was no whining. Now where does this lead us? To the Bozanics as adults. All 12 graduated from High School. Many went into the military. All weresuccessful.

Nick-got a chance to play for the NY baseball Giants and went on to manage a farm, Zita –was the 1st woman radio operator at La Guardia Airport, John worked on Apollo 13 as an electrical engi-neer, Mary-wrote and composed songs, Anne and Emily-became accomplished musicians, George-became a school teacher, Jean-ette-toured the country with the Air Force Band and earned a PhD from UCLA, Vera -joined the Air Force, Helen –is a Justice of the Peace, Don-worked for Westinghouse and holds many pa-tents in electron spin echo frequency, Larry worked for Ford and helped open Ford’s China facility.

Only six survive today but brother Donald offers this sage advice to the youth of today: “look around and see what you can do to improve the world…don’t just think about what you can do to make yourself feel better”.

Sage advise indeed to all of those cowering in their safe spaces.

-Karl