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Thoughts & Views: Ensuring they get ‘the best years of their lives’

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As the nation prepares to remember America’s war dead on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, a veterans’ advocate group in Kearny is continuing its efforts to aid and comfort our living members of the military, both active and retired.

Realizing that many veterans and their families are struggling on the homefront, VOICE (Veterans Outreach Information Community Education) – the brainchild of American Legion Frobisher Post 99 Auxiliary President Maryallyn Fisher – is marshaling a host of resources to get them back on their collective feet.

Researching records in the Kearny tax assessor’s office and using the Open Public Records Act, “we’ve identified 352 military families living in Kearny,” Fisher said. “We want to thank them for their service to our country and we want them to know we’re here to help at the American Legion.”

So far, over the course of several months, according to Fisher and outreach coordinator Bill Sweeney, VOICE has gone to bat for 19 local vets in various stateside campaigns: getting copies of service discharge papers, getting veterans’ benefits, getting hearing aids, getting legal help to document service-connected disability ratings, making medical referrals to the V.A., getting answers on a military spouses’ life insurance policies, getting housing assistance and more.

Two area veteran centers in Bloomfield and Secaucus have been particularly friendly and helpful, Sweeney said.

To deal with those returning vets who may have been traumatized by wartime experiences, VOICE has arranged to get many locals and others trained online in an intervention technique, “Question/ Persuade/Refer,” to talk to troubled vets.

So far, 15 members of the Kearny Fire Department, 10 in the Police Department, 15 at the Board of Education, Health Officer John Sarnas and about 60 employees of the Passaic public school system – where Fisher works – have done the training.

“We’re willing to train local business people,” Fisher said.

Recently, Post Commander Tony Capitti organized a local workshop conducted by the state Attorney General’s Office on its civil law military initiative. “They’re trying to fast track cases of local veterans looking to regain jobs lost because of possible discrimination,” Fisher said.

Through the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, which sponsors a veterans’ discount card program for honorably discharged vets, Post 99 held an open house on April 24, inviting local vets to apply for the card, which is accepted by certain stores in the area. “We issued 55 cards that day for discounts county-wide,” Sweeney said. “And now we’re trying to expand the program by getting more stores to participate.”

The post has scheduled another discount card drive for those who weren’t able to attend the April event for Thursday, June 6, from noon to 3 p.m., at post headquarters, 314 Belgrove Drive, opposite Veterans Field.

For those returning veterans looking for work as civilians, Sweeney said the post hopes to partner soon with Goodwill Industries in Harrison. “Goodwill will donate a suit to any vet going on a job interview,” he said.

On its website – kearnyamericanlegionauxiliary.com – VOICE has posted a host of local, state and federal referral resources available to local veterans, who are also invited to call the post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or Wednesdays, from 6 to 8 p.m., to talk to a VOICE representative. The contact number is 201- 991-6919.

We applaud their efforts.

– Ron Leir

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