Jack Downing or John F. Downing
John F. Downing is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Veterans of America, Inc. Since joining the organization in 2001, he has restored and expanded the important UVA partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Labor on behalf of formerly homeless veterans. Mr. Downing has developed innovative programs in housing and clinical services for veterans including a transitional living facility with studio apartments in Pittsfield, Ma, called the Berkshire Veterans Residence, opened in the fall of 2004.
John F. Downing has over thirty-five years of service to the community of the addicted, incarcerated, mentally ill, and homeless individuals in our society. Mr. Downing’s reputation for community action is known in New England and other parts of the United States because of his tireless work and results oriented approach for those who are labeled powerless and hopeless members of our society.
John F. Downing was the Director of Aftercare/Reintegration for the Berkshire County Office of the Sheriff, Founder of the Offender’s Advocacy Project, Director of the Experimental Project in Counseling, Director of Social Services for the Action for Opportunity Program, and an instructor in the Criminal justice Program at Berkshire Community College.
He has written and spoken throughout the region on matters pertaining to his constituency and recently presented before the Congress on behalf of funding for homeless veterans transitional housing and employment programs.
Mr. Downing attended Merrimack College, Cranwell Prepartory School and holds licenses in social work and batterer’s abuse counseling. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross, Berkshire County, the Berkshire County Neighborhood Youth Corp, the Berkshire Athenaeum, the Eastern Regional Advisory Board of the US Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and is a Deputy Sheriff for Berkshire County.
"Support your local veterans"
The North Adams Transcript (Online) - Letters
Thursday, January 10, 2008
To the Editor:
We write in response to William Bradley's letter of Jan. 2.[, 2008].
Jack Downing, a non-veteran, and UVA or SO (United Veterans Association or Soldier On), or whatever he calls himself, does nothing to help veterans that we know of in Northern Berkshire, although I understand Bradley got a grant from him.
Your local veterans organizations and VSO agents Reardon, Kennedy and Denault do the bulk of the work here in Northern Berkshire. If you are going to donate, do so here at home. Your donations are much needed here in Northern Berkshire.
To demonstrate the huge need here, consider this: In the past four months, we have signed up 341 families, approximately 1,200 people, for our food bank and distributed $60,000 worth of food. Donate to any of the veterans or social organizations, youth sports or whatever, but keep it at home.
Soldier On is not a veterans' organization.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Jan. 9, 2008
The writer is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in North Adams.
"Vets left out of the party"
The North Adams Transcript Online - Letters
Friday, November 9, 2007
I write to my fellow citizens, and especially my fellow veterans, in Berkshire County.
If you're like me, I guess your invitation was misplaced for the big Senator John Kerry / Jack Downing Show last week.
I'm just a regular veteran doing some volunteering to help my community, stuff like that, just like you. If I could have found my invitation to the Senator John Kerry/ Jack Downing party, I would have had one question for the two of them: Where is the Outreach Center money, which was budgeted at $80,000 a year?
You see, we had a really good Outreach Center on North Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The center had been in Pittsfield for 19 years. The money went to Downing's UVA (United Veterans of America) three years ago, and we have seen no money or services since.
The United Veterans of America is not a veterans organization, and Jack Downing is not a veteran.
Maybe we will get invited next year.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Nov. 7, 2007
The writer is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 54.
"Anyone but Kerry"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
To the Editor:
We will elect a senator in Massachusetts this year. Will someone please run against John Kerry.
I am a disabled combat veteran from the Vietnam War. Kerry has done nothing for veterans or anyone else in the state for his entire 24-year tenure. During the Vietnam War, he testified before Congress that we were daily committing atrocities against the civilians in Vietnam. That was a lie. Then he backed off and said he heard we were, without mentioning any names.
I and virtually everyone I know will support almost anyone Democrat or Republican against Kerry. Veterans by and large despise him. Let me tell you right now, he does not deserve most of his medals. This billionaire abandoned us veterans and citizens long ago.
George W. Bush would not have been elected for a disastrous second term if anyone but Kerry had run against him. He seemed to run to lose in that election.
It's time for a change.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Jan. 15, 2008
"No defense for Kerry inaction"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
To the Editor:
I write in response to a letter submitted by Joe Nowak (Transcript, January 18).
You (Mr. Nowak) thank me for my service and then attack me. Your letter proves my point: Sen. Kerry said and wrote, but he did nothing.
I am not resentful, but of course I'm angry, as are most veterans I speak with here in Northern Berkshire. Our government has forgotten all of us. Tell me what in my comments is untrue. You can disagree without being disagreeable.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Jan. 19, 2008
United Veterans of America, Inc.
421 N. Main Street Bldg-6
Leeds, MA 01053
Primary Contact: Jack Downing
Services: Transitional housing; food; employment training and placement; health care; comprehensive case management.
The United Veterans of America, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit corporation. Since opening its doors in 1994, the UVA has grown from 26 to 120 beds while providing continuous, local operation for nine years. The UVA is committed to serving the needs of the whole individual - AA and NA meetings are mandatory; drug and alcohol tests are conducted at random; there are programs in employable skill acquisition and self-improvement. The UVA operates a facility that provides a safe, clean and quiet shelter, substance abuse counseling, employment services and transitional programs for male and female veterans that will provide a positive and productive life.
"Veteran's organization receives funding"
1/10/2008 12:45 PM, By: Ryan Burgess
PITTSFIELD, MASS. -- It's a step in the right direction for a local veteran's organization in Pittsfield.
They call it Soldier On, and that's what they're about to do thanks to some help from the federal government.
The Pittsfield Veteran's Shelter has just received a $900,000 federal appropriation. This allows them to break ground on a new co-op housing facility, where some veterans will actually own their unit.
So far, Soldier On has received a total of $1.8 million in federal aid. They're still looking to get about $2 million from the state.
It's a step in the right direction for a local veteran's organization in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They call it Soldier On, and that's what they're about to do thanks to some help from the federal government.
"Soldiering on for our veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Monday, January 14, 2008
Congratulations to the United Veterans of America (UVA) for its new name, Soldier On, and its new motto, "The fight doesn't end when they get home." With a new name and a new goal, to expand its ability to provide housing for an additional 70 to 80 veterans, the group is also in the developmental stages of a residential program specifically for women veterans with children.
This is in addition to its ongoing efforts to get veterans back on track through rehabilitation, counseling, education, job training, and assisting veterans' agents like myself. I congratulate Soldier On and its excellent workers for their efforts on behalf of homeless veterans and VSO agents.
Soldier On is a legitimate non-profit organization located on the Northampton VA Hospital campus in Leeds and in Pittsfield, at 360 West Housatonic Street. For information on the programs or to make donations, contact CEO Jack Downing at (413) 582-3059 or write to Soldier On at 421 North Main Street, Building 6, Leeds, Ma. 01053.
WILLIAM T. BRADLEY
The writer is the Director of Veterans Services in Adams and a member of the Veterans Advisory Board, Northampton VA Hospital.
"Funding OK'd for homeless veterans" - The Springfield Republican
Thursday, April 17, 2008, By JO-ANN MORIARTY, Joemail@example.com
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced yesterday that $75 million in federal grants is being distributed to pay for Section 8 public housing vouchers for 10,000 homeless veterans in the country.
U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and is the chairman of its subcommittee on transportation and housing and urban development, wrote $75 million into the existing budget for the program that had gone unfunded since 2001.
The congressman said that 70 vouchers will be given to western and central Massachusetts.
"Homelessness among veterans has always been a serious problem, and now, with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, we are seeing a new generation of homeless vets," Olver said.
"These veterans have done what they have been asked to do. They have served their country bravely and now are in need of assistance. We must do all we can to help those who have sacrificed for us," he said
Olver worked with the Bush administration in coordinating the efforts of HUD and the Veterans Administration to make federal money available to pay for housing vouchers of 10,000 veterans across the country.
Phillip F. Mangano, who heads the Bush Administration's interagency council to end homelessness, also worked with HUD and the VA toward the goal of reducing the number of homeless veterans with the goal to give them permanently housed.
Additionally, the VA will provide a case worker to keep in touch with the formerly homeless veteran population to make sure they are taking their medications, paying their rents and offering support to keep them stable, said Jon Hite, the executive director of the Northampton Housing Authority which will manage the 70 housing vouchers.
"This is an effort between HUD and the Veteran Assisted Supported Housing (a program within the VA) to try to address the most severely homeless of our veterans to provide them with a roof over the heads and social services," Hite said.
"The social worker is intended to make sure that they keep their housing by ensuring they take their medications, pay their rent and get help available to them," Hite said.
"I'm thrilled, this is a good program," Hite said, "a lot of these folks wouldn't be eligible for public housing under existing rules because their housing history would disqualify them. This program allows that their housing history can be overlooked.
Hite will work with Soldier On, a veteran organization based in Northampton's Leeds section and headed by John F. Downing, to identify the homeless veterans.
Downing said that the announcement by HUD and the VA was an example "of government at its best."
He credited Olver for having "the will to do it from the very beginning. He got it, in his heart and mind."
"Northampton homeless shelter signals new name with new signs"
by The (Springfield) Republican Newsroom
Wednesday May 07, 2008, 2:57 PM
By FRED CONTRADA, firstname.lastname@example.org
NORTHAMPTON - The sign is up and the campaign marches on.
The agency formerly known as the United Veterans of American Homeless Shelter took its new name to the public today, spreading the word that it will henceforth be called Soldier On.
Work crews changed the sign at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds, where the privately run organization is based, as well as at its satellite facility in Pittsfield. The shelter opened at the Northampton site in 1994. At the time, it had 90 beds for homeless veterans and was hailed as a first-of-its-kind operation by then-VA Secretary Jesse Brown.
120 beds in Leeds
Today, the shelter has 120 beds in Leeds and another 70 in Pittsfield. It has also evolved into a multi-service operation, helping veterans get substance abuse treatment, jobs and housing. As it widened its mission, however, its name began to get in the way, according to director John F. Downing.
"Everywhere I'd go, there was confusion over the name," he said, explaining that people thought the shelter was part of the VA. "They'd say, 'Oh, no. You people are already funded.' We decided we needed to re-brand."
About 18 months ago, the shelter hooked up with Darby O'Brien Advertising in South Hadley. O'Brien agreed to provide his services for a cut rate.
"Jack really needed to separate the organization from the VA," O'Brien said.
When O'Brien came up with Soldier On, Downing knew it was a winner.
"We thought that name gave us the image of staying for the fight, of hanging in there," he said. "The fight doesn't end when they get home. It's given us a new spirit of hope."
Apartment complex planned
The rebinding comes as the organization is preparing to break ground on its most ambitious project to date: a 39-unit apartment complex in Pittsfield that will be owned by the veterans who live there. Financed with $6.2 million in state and federal funds, the studio units will help those veterans take a giant step from the street to stable, self-sustained lives.
As Downing explained it, each occupant must buy into the project with a $2,500 share that Soldier On will help raise. The 39 residents will own and manage the property themselves, paying monthly fees that Soldier On will direct into private accounts for the residents.
"A guy will have gone from being homeless to having $15,000-$20,000 in the bank," Downing said. "When we told the guys they'd actually be paying taxes, they applauded."
To be eligible, veterans must successfully complete substance abuse treatment programs at the VA. If a resident wishes to move out of the complex, Soldier On will buy back that share at 125 percent of market value.
The Springfield law firm Robinson Donovan has offered its legal services to Soldier On and agreed to pay for advertising to help the organization, Downing said. With its new name and a little help from its friends, Soldier On is raising money toward its next goal: a matching grant from the Kresge Foundation.
"It's been a home run," Downing said. "It's given us an identity that people can grab onto and run with."
"Appreciative of welcoming effort"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
My letter to the editor of May 9, "No welcome back for Iraq veterans," was intended for the city of Pittsfield. My apologies for any harm caused to any private persons who at their expense and time perform this vital function. My deepest appreciation goes to those persons.
DAVID L. MASON, SR.
"No welcome back for Iraq veteran"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Friday, May 09, 2008
My son is in the Army National Guard. Nine months ago, he left his job, his wife and three young children. He went to a war-torn country thousands of miles from here called Iraq. He was bombed and mortared and shot at and hand hand-to-hand combat with Iraqi insurgents.
He returned home Saturday, May 3, to a quiet family welcome. There were no cheering crowds or ticker tape parades or keys to the city. No one from the city said, "Welcome home, soldier, thanks for what you did."
My son is a hero and I am fiercely proud of him. I wish the city of Pittsfield would feel the same way.
DAVID L. MASON, SR.
A former homeless veteran sleeps in his room at Leeds' Soldier On facility, which provides housing and assistance to veterans. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Soldier On: The battle rages on"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Sunday, May 18, 2008
LEEDS — This place isn't for wimps.
There are drug addicts here. Sex offenders. Criminals.
Right in front of you, one of them will hawk up a wad of spit and "thwwwp" it onto the hallway floor.
They've all served our country. Some have killed at our nation's request. Some have escaped death.
And now, all of them are homeless.
There's a lot of depravity here at Soldier On, a private, nonprofit transitional facility for homeless veterans tucked in the woods outside Northampton.
But there's also hope, brotherhood and victories.
Here, 37 miles east of Pittsfield, where the motto is "The fight doesn't end when they get home," homeless veterans are helping other homeless veterans battle the demons of war, substance abuse, depression and loneliness.
Not everyone succeeds in building a new life, and there's no guarantee that the ones who get on their feet won't end up on the streets again.
But what's special about this place is that inside their homes — Veterans Affairs hospitals turned middle-aged frat barracks — recovered homeless veterans are running the show.
At the Soldier On facility in Pittsfield and in the three buildings at the Leeds headquarters, where homeless veterans begin their regimen off the streets, committees of homeless vets are making the rules, enforcing the rules, representing the vets and counseling them.
And people are finding out that it's a lot easier for homeless vets to take the high ground when the guys pushing them have been in the valleys.
It's 6 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, and Building 26 general manager Valdore "Val" Gagne is having a sit-down talk with a fellow Vietnam veteran. The man, in Gagne's words, "has been sitting around on his ass too much."
Gagne can recommend veterans for relocation to Pittsfield's Berkshire Veterans Residence, where their work load increases, and he tells the man he's close to making it on the list.
He hasn't done any daily chores, like the rest of the group. Hasn't showered in weeks. Hasn't looked for a job.
The man agrees and breaks down, acknowledging that he's been feeling lazy and depressed.
Gagne puts his arm around him.
"Listen, I need you to start doing something," he
says. "You need to step it up. We've all been there. I know you can do this."
From tragedy to teacher
Five years ago, it was Gagne who needed coaching.
The 55-year-old Wolcott, Conn., native joined the Army in 1971.
"I quit high school," he said. "I wanted a car."
He served in Vietnam, Germany and El Paso as a HAWK missile crewman. Not only did he learn the latest technology behind air missile defense, he also developed a taste for brewed beverages, and in mass quantities.
"Your Army check was always your drinking money," he said. "So when I came home from the war, I kept it up."
Gagne returned to Connecticut and worked at a number of jobs, from a tire dealership to a furniture store to a dairy processing plant. He met a woman, Betty, and they had two children together. His drinking got worse.
The couple split, and she moved the children to Florida. Gagne found another girlfriend, Linda, who also had a hard-core drinking habit.
They moved to Tennessee. One night at a campsite, they had an argument. Gagne, aiming to make Linda jealous, walked to the next site and flirted with a group of women. When he came back, Linda walked up to him, flicked a lighter and held the flame to her clothing — after she doused herself in gasoline.
Gagne grabbed Linda, threw her to the ground and rolled her back and forth on the dirt. His clothes caught on fire.
"I learned you can't put out gasoline," he said.
Gagne suffered serious burns and was in the hospital for 10 days; Linda died eight days later.
"I ran home to Mommy," he said, choking back tears. "I think I was drunk for three months straight."
Out of a job, Gagne started stealing and pawning petty items for drinking money. Arrests followed. More beer drinking. His mother died.
"I was a child for so long," said Gagne, who hasn't spoken to his own children in years. "I stayed 18 for 35 years."
During one of his countless treatment sessions, Gagne met a social worker, Barbara Frasier, who told him about Soldier On, then known as the United Veterans of America. He went back and forth between Leeds and Connecticut three times, sober for a few months, drunk for a few. His new girlfriend, an alcoholic named Diane, was murdered by her neighbor.
In the spring of 2003, Frasier tracked down Gagne in an apartment and put him on a bus bound for Leeds. Early during his fourth stay in Leeds, he remembers praying for help.
"I'm not an overly religious guy, but I do believe in God," he said. "I prayed to my mother, and Linda, and Diane. I figured two out of three of them were alcoholics, so maybe they'd help."
Gagne says he's been sober for nearly five years.
"Look at this," he says, holding up a ring of 15 keys. "I have keys. I didn't own a thing when I came here. Now I'm the boss."
It's stories like these that Soldier On's 65-year-old leader calls "the virus" — homeless veterans finding a new spark for life and spreading it to the corps.
A change in philosophy
John F. Downing, Soldier On's CEO, has been working with substance abusers for decades.
It was in the late 1960s as social services director for a community action program when Downing was "baby-sitting" 42 heroin addicts in a small office off Wahconah Street in Pittsfield.
Downing — the brother of the late Berkshire County district attorney Gerard Downing and uncle of current State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing — tried to get them clean, get housing and find a job. Police called him one morning to assist in removing two addicts from the Housatonic River — they were baptizing cats.
Downing went on to work as an offender advocate in the court system and then for Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. as director of reintegration and aftercare services at the Second Street jail and the Berkshire County Jail & House of Corrections.
Downing said he developed a soft spot for addicts. His time working with them helped him overcome one of his demons: judging people.
"I learned that you either learn to love people the way they are or you judge the heck out of them," he said. "My work has taught me that we are all bonded together in our brokenness."
Downing and his wife, Mary, also have raised nine children, seven of whom were adopted, including a special-needs child.
So it's no surprise that when people talk about Downing, they talk about alternative approaches to problem solving.
During the first three months after he took over as CEO of Soldier On in 2001, he fired 13 of the 16 permanent employees.
He helped institute a 21-day program of treatment for incoming vets. He gave the women their own cottage. He organized sweeps, where teams of workers would visit shelters and hospitals, looking for homeless veterans in need of help.
And he helped establish the veterans home on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield, where homeless veterans progress after their stay at Leeds.
But what the veterans appreciate most is that Downing empowered them. Starting in the Pittsfield facility, Downing hand-selected recovered homeless veterans and gave them managerial positions.
Before Downing arrived, only four of the 16 staff members were homeless veterans. Now, he has 46 staffers, 30 of whom are veterans.
"Integrity," he said. "I'm looking for a few good men. What we've done is make these vets not only accountable for their own lives, but for the lives of the men around them."
When the approach showed signs of working, it was instituted in the buildings in Leeds — Building 6 (for newcomers), Building 26 (longer-term care), and in the women's cottage.
No longer did the veterans have the hired staff (the "college grads," as the vets call them) looking down their noses at them and telling them what to do. Now their fellow homeless vets were holding them accountable.
Morale climbed. The living spaces started to look cleaner. Fewer fights broke out. There were more hugs. In the military, they call it "esprit de corps."
"Your illness becomes your gift," Downing said. "It's an amazing thing to see."
He hired homeless veterans to work for Soldier On, people such as Willie Leadbetter, a veteran who described himself as a "hardened criminal and a drug addict" who has been clean for three years and runs the organization's outreach program.
Then there's Darryl Benson, a homeless vet from Albany, N.Y., who is a Soldier On case worker taking classes at Westfield State College to become a certified drug and alcohol counselor. And Lenny Costa, 56, a 35-year-long heroin addict from New York City who now is the general manager of Building 6.
"The hardest thing for a man to do is ask for help," Costa said. "I had no problem asking a dealer to go $5 on a $10 bag, but I came in here and, man, it was tough to ask another man for help. But this place helped me. I've learned that I'm teachable."
The vets also formed committees in each building. They're in charge of spending accounts, and they vote on house rules.
"The first thing we did was increase the curfew to midnight," Gagne said. "We made a lot of friends for that."
Don Chevannes, 56, a Vietnam vet and a recovering heroin addict from Harlem, is one of five committee members, along with Gagne, in Building 26. He said the command structure is always an eye-opener for new veterans entering the facility.
"When these guys come off the street, or from jail, they have a tough time adjusting, a tough time with authority," Chevannes said. "But we've all been on the streets, so we're able to set an example.
"And plus, most of us were drug addicts, and drugs addicts can't fool other drug addicts. We've seen it all."
Chevannes speaks to students in the Northampton area about addiction, something he battled for 30-plus years. Now he's looking to the future. He thinks he wants to get an apartment, but he agonizes about the possibility of leaving Building 26, his home since 2003.
For now, though, he'll stay and help.
The Vietnam majority
On any given night, Solider On puts up 220 homeless veterans, with 70 in Pittsfield and 150 in the three buildings in Leeds. The majority of the vets are from the Vietnam War, seven are from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and nine are women.
Laurie Benoit, 56, the house manager for the women's cottage, has been at Soldier On since 2004, when she left an abusive relationship and found herself homeless.
An Army veteran with two years of service at Fort Knox in Kentucky, Benoit said she battled a drinking problem for years.
At the cottage, Benoit talks with the vets when they're down. She helps them set up counseling and works with their resumes. She also makes sure that no males get close to the females.
"They're not getting anywhere near my women," she said. "I'm like the momma bear up here."
'The first high'
Downing said most veterans come in with it, and he believes it's "the first high, the first trigger back into other addictions."
Soldier On is a pornography-free zone. Any that is found is quickly confiscated and trashed. The computers have restrictions on them.
On the walls, World War II recruiting posters hang next to bikini-clad pin-up girls. A handful of veterans watch "Law & Order" on a 50-inch flat-screen TV in a common room.
One young vet plays Space Cadet pinball on a computer, while the man next to him writes an e-mail: "Nana, I'm sorry about my last two e-mails, you're right, I've just been lonely."
An argument breaks out in the hallway, and nearby vets quickly swoop in and end it — this also is a punch-free zone. Throw a punch, and you're gone.
Down the hall, another vet sleeps the day away in the corner of a bedroom. Downing said the highlight of the day for a handful of these veterans is getting their medications.
"Some of these guys have severe mental illnesses," he said. "We understand that some of them will probably be with us till the end. But it's better than having them on the streets."
Soldier On isn't for everyone, though. In a small cinderblock room in Building 6, Costa houses the personal belongings of veterans, many of whom have gone AWOL from Soldier On. There are duffle bags and snowboards stacked next to boxes of photos and documents, such as birth certificates and military papers.
Many vets will never return to collect them.
"It's not the material items that break my heart," Costa said. "It's the family photos. Those are memories they've left behind. Can't replace those."
And for Frederick Tanner, there's no replacing Soldier On. The Connecticut native and Vietnam vet says that if it weren't for Gagne and his organization, he'd probably be dead.
In January, Tanner, 56, left Building 26 to move into a Northampton apartment with two other former homeless vets, Jonathan Tauer and Clayton Fisher, both of whom were looking for a third roommate.
Tanner, a recovering alcoholic and an opiate addict who saw action outside Tanker Valley in Vietnam, had been at Soldier On since 2003 and was hoping to get out on his own again.
On Tanner's first night in his new place on Conz Street, Tauer and Fisher brought back two 1.75-liter jugs of vodka after a trip to the store. Tanner said he was tempted but abstained from drinking. The men ribbed him for not partaking, and tensions grew over the next two weeks.
Tanner spotted Gagne at a bus stop one afternoon and told him about the situation.
"Val, what do I do?" Tanner asked.
"But how? My bed is gone, and my spot's probably been filled."
"Don't worry," Gagne said. "We'll make room for you."
Tanner moved back that night.
"If it wasn't for Val," he said, "I would've started drinking again. I owe him my life."
Tauer died of a drug overdose on April 8. Fisher died of alcohol poisoning 13 days later.
To reach Benning W. De La Mater: email@example.com, (413) 496-6243.
About this story ...
The nonprofit group's motto is 'The fight doesn't end when they get home,' and the numbers bear that out. Eighty-eight percent of war veterans who receive help from Western Massachusetts-based Soldier On are substance abusers, while 80 percent have a mental illness, 28 percent are either on parole or probation, and at least 25 percent have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recently, Eagle reporter Benning W. De La Mater spent time at Soldier On's headquarters in Leeds. He recaptures those visits today on pages A1 and A4.
"More about Soldier On (w/ slide show - photos by: Darren Vanden Berge)"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Sunday, May 18, 2008
Soldier On, a private, non-profit agency that seeks to help homeless veterans restore stability to their lives, rents three buildings from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Leeds for $700,000.
Formerly known as the United Veterans of America, Soldier On has a $4.2 million operating budget, which comes from federal, state and local aid.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, about 336,000 veterans were homeless at some point during 2006. Roughly 1,500 of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Experts believe that, to fix the problem, more permanent housing needs to be built to accommodate the numbers, which many believe will increase in the next decade.
Soldier On's contribution will be 39 limited-equity, co-operative apartments to be built next to its facility on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield. The $6.6 million project is slated to begin in August, and a public hearing with Pittsfield's Community Development Board will take place in late June. One abutter has expressed concern about the project.
Soldier On CEO John F. Downing told Congress' Veterans Affairs Committee last month that the project will serve as a model for other homeless organizations.
In the new program, veterans will act as shareholders in the facility, paying rent and caring for the property while continuing to receive services such as counseling for drug, alcohol or mental-health problems.
Half of the veterans' rent will be put into an individual account that the vets can't touch for three years. If they leave, they would sell the unit back to the organization, getting the benefit of the equity they have accumulated and allowing another veteran to take their place.
Even with all of the services that Soldier On provides, Downing acknowledges that more homeless veterans will fail rather than succeed.
"The U.S. military is producing a significant portion of our homeless population. About 30 percent," he said. ... "We deal with a lot of failure here. But the more broken you are, the greater the gift you are to us, and the stronger our family fabric. We're building a family here."
— Benning W. De La Mater
"Pittsfield departments clear budget hurdle"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
PITTSFIELD — There were questions, statements and one long discussion. But no budget cuts.
In the first of five public hearings on Mayor James M. Ruberto's $126.9 million fiscal 2009 budget proposal, the City Council last night gave preliminary approval to the seven individual department spending plans under consideration.
The council gave unanimous approval to Ruberto's suggested budgets for the office of the city clerk, the Berkshire Athenaeum, the building inspectors, the Council on Aging, the City Council and the mayor's office. The Veterans' Service budget was approved 9-2, with Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio casting the dissenting votes.
Suggested budgets for the Board of Appeals and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which originally were scheduled to take place last night, were continued for public hearings on June 9 and June 17, respectively.
The council's second budget public hearing will take place tonight. The fifth and last hearing is scheduled for June 18.
The Veterans' Services budget generated the most discussion last night, as the council defeated by a vote of 6-5 a motion by Maffuccio to cut by half a proposed $26,630 salary for a new administrative assistant position.
Veterans' Agent Rosanne M. Frieri had requested the additional position to help handle a client list she said has increased from 26 to 62 cases. Frieri, the only full-time employee, said her office has had a difficult time keeping up with the paperwork for veterans for whom the city provides financial aid. Program expenses have increased from $100,000 during the current fiscal year to $230,000 in Ruberto's proposed spending plan.
Although the city is reimbursed 75 percent of the funding that it authorizes for veterans' financial aid, it has not received that sum in a timely fashion because the increased workload has left the office behind in paperwork.
"The office is extremely busy," Frieri said. "Every person we see requires an application. They have to be investigated on a three-month basis. It's a tremendous amount of work for one person to make sure people are on and off the rolls at the proper times."
In asking for the salary cut, Maffuccio said the city should not be hiring full-time employees while the economy is struggling.
During discussion, Frieri said that 30 to 40 of the cases her office is handling are from veterans living at the Soldier On facility on West Housatonic Street. Many of those veterans do not come from Pittsfield.
Instead of hiring a second full-time employee, Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi suggested that the city should ask Soldier On's President and CEO John F. Downing Jr. to share some of the responsibility.
"I think they should be helping out, and I think there should really be some discussion," Bianchi said, addressing Frieri directly. "They have been good neighbors and a good organization, but it's burdened you as a veterans' agent. You've got to ask him to pitch in."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, (413) 496-6224.
Of the 62 clients working with Pittsfield's Veterans' Services Department, seven live at the Soldier On facility on West Housatonic Street, while the remaining 55 are Pittsfield residents. Veterans' Agent Roseanne M. Frieri stated this information inaccurately during a City Council budget hearing. The information was reported in an article in Wednesday's Eagle.
CITIZENS FOR JOHN OLVER FOR CONGRESS
P.O. Box 819, Amherst, MA 01004
Downing, John, Pittsfield, MA 01201
US Veterans of America/President & ...
$500, P, 11/27/2007
West Housatonic Street Plan
"Funding flows for vet home: Soldier On receives $711,981 for the Berkshire Veterans' Village in Pittsfield."
By Ellen G. Lahr, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
PITTSFIELD — Soldier On, a nonprofit agency that houses and assists homeless veterans, is closing the funding gap for its $6.6 million, 39-unit residence on West Housatonic Street.
The Federal Home Loan Bank has awarded a $360,981 subsidy and $351,000 grant — a combined sum of $711,981 — to support the construction project, and the final funds should be in place this month, said John Downing, CEO of Soldier On, which operates residential services for homeless veterans in Leeds and Pittsfield.
The Pittsfield project, Berkshire Veterans' Village — located at the former Berkshire Motel — has already received various grants and subsidies from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency and other state sources, along with some private donations.
The organization must also clear permitting hurdles within City Hall to allow for new construction, and the Pittsfield Community Development Board has scheduled Soldier On's special permit and site plan review application for its Aug. 5 meeting.
Soldier On was formerly known as United Veterans of America.
The 39 new studio apartments would reflect an expansion on the property, which presently provides housing for 71 veterans who have struggled with homelessness.
The new facility would increase to 110 the number of veterans living on the site and create a new model of property ownership to stem the risk of homelessness among veterans.
Veterans living in the new residence would buy into the property through a cooperative, limited-equity contract, which would require a $2,500 up-front fee.
Fifty percent of residents' rental payments would be deposited into individual savings accounts that would be held for three years, enabling residents to establish financial stability.
'A model' of a facility
"We're the first in the history of the U.S. to do this for (veterans) who were homeless," Downing said. "Hopefully, it will be a model.
"What we know about the homeless world is that housing people immediately, with services, is better than putting people into transitional housing and asking them to go get services. We're surrounding this facility with case management. ... With this population, it's extremely effective."
Downing has led Soldier On's veterans into management and leadership positions at their facilities in Leeds and Pittsfield.
He predicted a groundbreaking for the project sometime in the fall.
To reach Ellen G. Lahr: email@example.com, (413) 496-6240.
"Model home for veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Thursday, July 10, 2008
With the arrival of $700,000 in the form of a subsidy and a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank, the 39-unit Pittsfield residence planned for homeless veterans is a big step closer to becoming reality. Ideally it will serve as a model for other communities as the nation steps up for struggling veterans, including those young vets now returning from lengthy ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The $6.6 million residence is a project of Soldier On, the nonprofit agency formerly known as United Veterans of America, which provides residential services for veterans in Pittsfield and Leeds (Northampton). The goal is to not only offer housing for veterans but to provide them with needed services, such as case management and financial assistance, to ease their integration back into mainstream society. This provides the stability veterans don't get when they are simply provided with transitional housing and left to their own devices in finding the help they need. By buying into the property through a limited-equity contract, the veterans would also have an investment in making the project work.
There are still some permitting hurdles ahead for the West Housatonic Street residence, which we hope will be easily cleared. The ambitious project has received funding from a variety of private, state and federal sources which testifies to its viability.
Historically, veterans returning home from politically unpopular wars are made to suffer for that unpopularity, even though as soldiers they only did what they were asked by the nation's leaders. That is certainly the case with Iraq, as we have seen by the shabby treatment of those returning with grievous injuries. Ideally, as Soldier On CEO John Downing suggests, this Pittsfield project will be the template for similar efforts to assure that homeless veterans not only have somewhere to live but will receive whatever assistance the nation owes them.
"Vietnam Vets club in dire straits"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
To the Editor:
I write to report that the Vietnam Veterans of America, on 30 River St. in North Adams, has distributed around $150,000 worth of food in our first 11 months of our Food Program. We also hold Alcoholic Anonymous meetings daily at noon and Thursday nights at 8. Teen Nights are from 7 until 10 every Friday and Saturday. LZ Larry continues, and our Memorial Park is open to the public every day of the year. We also have adopted three small parks in the city and police them every day.
Unfortunately, we are in dire financial straits. In the last two years since we reopened the club, after the liquor license was lost under a different set of officers, we have put in around $15,000 of our own money, mostly from our pensions from combat in Vietnam, and taken out loans to keep our programs going.
We receive no financial support from the state or federal governments. We have received some donations from some businesses, but as we all know, our country is heading into recession and money simply is scarce. We keep running out of food because we serve, at this date 594 households. A household is one to eight persons. The vast majority of our clients are elderly, scholastically challenged and women with children who either work or do not.
We ask our fellow citizens who are doing a little better to consider donating some canned goods, money or tag sale type items so that we may continue our programs.
There are no salaries or expense accounts. We are all volunteers. Thanks to you, our fellow citizens, we have developed one of the most successful chapters in the country. We promised the members and donors that we would stay open until the year 2020, and if at all possible, that is what we will do.
Most of us will probably only live a few more years, as we are dying now at the present time faster than we did in Vietnam. Warriors don't live as long as their friends and neighbors. Thank you for your consideration. Please call 662-2186.
North Adams, Massachusetts
August 4, 2008
The writer is president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 54.
From: "Senator Ben Downing"
Date: Friday, August 15, 2008
Re: "Senator [Ben] Downing's Press Pass: Week of August 9 - 15, 2008"
PRESS RELEASE - "[Berkshire County's State Senator Ben] Downing Announces $2.6M Housing Development Award for Berkshire Veterans Village"
August 15, 2008
BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) is pleased to announce that the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has awarded Soldier On (formerly United Veterans of America) $2,614,260 in financial assistance for the Berkshire Veterans Village development project on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield.
“This funding is critical for Soldier On to begin construction on the Berkshire Veterans Village,” lauded Senator Downing. “The successful completion of this project will realize Soldier On’s ultimate goal of providing homeless veterans with the safety, security and dignity of owning their own home.”
Berkshire Veterans Village is a first-of-its kind limited equity housing project that will serve as a national model. Compromised of 39 affordable housing units, Berkshire Veterans Village will provide veterans with a place they can call their own, and is unique due to its use of individual deposit accounts for each participant in the housing cooperative. The housing itself is funded through grants and donations to Solider On, allowing money usually paid as debt service on a housing loan to be deposited into an account for the owners. After five years, or if a resident decides to sell their share in the development, veterans can receive these funds for discretionary use, providing each resident with further incentive to keep their lives on track.
“There are two great points illustrated by this award,” said Jack F. Downing, President and CEO of Soldier On. “First, this shows how supportive the state and federal governments are towards veterans programming. Berkshire Veterans Village marks the first time in the history of the United States that we’ll build ownership units for formerly homeless veterans. Second, the progressive leadership of the Berkshire County legislative delegation has been behind this project from its inception, and this package reflects the bridges that have been built between them, DHCD and our federal representatives. Their support helped us to get this done. Soldier On enjoys the tremendous privilege and responsibility of being out in front with this new type of housing project, and our leaders have done a great job in responding to our vision.”
The total subsidy is based on awards from four Housing Development programs administered by DHCD: the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), the Housing Innovations Fund (HIF), Community Based Housing (CBH) and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). DHCD Housing Development programs provide funding opportunities to for-profit and non-profit developers. The programs offered encourage the development of affordable rental projects that serve both families and individuals with annual incomes at or below 80% of area median income. Specifically:
HOME is a federally funded program that assists in the production and preservation of affordable housing for low and moderate-income families and individuals. The program funds a broad range of activities including new construction, acquisition and rehabilitation of rental properties.
HIF provides funding for the creation and preservation of alternative forms of affordable housing. These forms include, but are not limited to, single room occupancy (SRO) units, limited equity cooperative housing, transitional housing for the homeless, battered women's shelters, mutual housing, employer assisted housing and lease to purchase housing.
The CBH Program provides funding for the development of integrated housing for people with disabilities, including elders, with priority for individuals who are in institutions or nursing facilities or at risk of institutionalization.
The Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been structured to ensure that many different types of organizations are eligible to receive financing. Eligible applicants include governmental subdivisions, community development corporations, local housing authorities, community action agencies, community-based or neighborhood-based non-profit housing organizations, other non-profit organizations, for-profit entities and private employers.
"Veterans group gets $2.6M boost"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Monday, August 18, 2008
PITTSFIELD — The state Department of Housing and Community Development has awarded Soldier On $2.6 million in financial assistance that will allow the nonprofit to begin construction on its 39-unit housing complex for homeless veterans on West Housatonic Street.
"This is the final (financial) piece that we've been waiting for," said Soldier On President and CEO John F. Downing on Friday. "It's been a long time."
Downing said that he hopes construction on the $6.6 million Berkshire Veterans Village, which has been in the planning stages for several years, will begin by the end of September. There are a few issues with the city of Pittsfield that need to be resolved before construction can start, he said.
Once those matters have been taken care of, Downing said, the nonprofit will schedule a groundbreaking ceremony.
Soldier On, formerly the United Veterans of America, operates residential services for homeless veterans in Leeds and Pittsfield. The Berkshire Veterans Village, located at the former Springside Nursing Home, will provide 39 affordable housing units for previously homeless veterans, a first-of-its kind limited equity project that is expected to serve as a national model.
"This is the first time in history that we'll have housing units for homeless veterans," Downing said.
The housing is unique due to its use of individual deposit accounts for each participant in the housing collective. The housing itself is funded through grants and donations to Soldier On, which allows money that is normally used to pay debt service on a housing loan to be deposited into an account for the owners.
Veterans can receive these funds for discretionary use after five years, or if they decide to sell their stake in the development. This method is expected to provide the residents with further incentive to keep their lives on track.
Downing said the additional funding will allow Soldier On to provide utilities that will make the housing units both affordable and sustainable. Sustainability will allow the housing units to avoid routine maintenance costs.
"We worked hard on that end of it," Downing said.
Last month, the nonprofit received a combined sum of $711,981 — a $360,981 subsidy, and a $351,000 grant — from the Federal Home Loan Bank toward the project. The project has also received various grants and subsidies from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, in addition to state funds and private donations.
Downing said Soldier On received the maximum amount of funding that it requested from the federal Department of Housing and Community Development through what he termed the "one-step process."
According to Downing, agencies requesting federal funding through the state do so in a single application. The total subsidy is based on awards from four housing development programs that are administered by the DCHD that provide funding opportunities to for-profit and nonprofit developers.
Downing said the Berkshires state legislative delegation, which includes his nephew, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, combined with the state's federal legislators to make the project work.
U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, was especially supportive, Downing said. "He really walked the walk for us," Downing said. "He didn't have to do it."
"Olver stops in county"
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, October 31, 2008
With Election Day looming, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver made a final swing through Berkshire County as he seeks his ninth term in office.
Olver began his day at an Elder Services of Berkshire County kitchen in Lanesborough where, five days a week, 1,000 meals are prepared for the county's Meals on Wheels program. He took a turn packing a meal and, afterward, said the visit was a reminder of the growing need for food assistance.
"We are going to have to do some things when we get back (to Washington) with food stamps and other programs, particularly if this (economic) downturn gets deeper," he said.
Elder Services Executive Director Robert P. Dean said Olver has been "very supportive" of Meals on Wheels, and understands that the program is under-funded by about 49 cents a meal.
"(Olver) has tried to get us additional funding, and we are very appreciative of that," Dean said. "But we are trying to cover 2008 costs with 1995 dollars."
Olver, an Amherst Democrat, is running against Nathan A. Bech of West Springfield, a Republican seeking his first elected office. Their campaign has largely been low-key, centered around a scattering of debates and a handful of campaign appearances.
Yesterday, Olver spent much of his time with a group that can't vote — four classes of fifth-graders at Egremont Elementary School in Pittsfield, where he fielded questions from the students and discussed his role in Congress.
From there, he went to Soldier On, a facility for homeless veterans. As Olver chatted over a lunch of sandwiches, soup and pasta salad, he barely talked politics and never mentioned his opponent.
Thanks to state funding and $1.6 million in federal earmarks that Olver helped secure, Soldier On is building equity-sharing apartments. Instead of paying rent, the veterans will build equity in their housing by working or performing community service; if they leave, the facility will pay them 125 percent of their investment.
"I've been helping (Soldier On) for several years now," Olver said. "I have high hopes that this will be a good success story that could be easily replicated elsewhere. There are lots of homeless veterans still."
Steven E. Como, executive vice president of Soldier On, said, the facility "wouldn't be able to do what we want to do" without the federal and state funding.
"This is going to be the first time in this country that someone is trying limited equity cooperatives for veterans," Como said. "Because of the funding, we are able to not have any debt, so what we would normally be using as a debt payment will go into the individuals' deposits."
Olver said he will continue touring the First Congressional District — geographically the state's largest, covering 110 cities and towns — until the election.
"There's an awful lot of ground to cover," he said.
To reach Jack Dew: firstname.lastname@example.org (413) 496-6241
Did you know that Jack Downing, who runs "Soldier On", is NOT a Veteran?
However, Jack Downing is a member of the Eastern Regional Advisory Board of the US Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and he is also a Deputy Sheriff for Berkshire County's Carmen Massimiano. Jack Downing would put politics before my own interests in a heartbeat. Carmen Massimiano via "Luciforo" wanted me jailed during the Spring of 1998, and Jack Downing would sell me out for Carmen's corrupt demands in a heartbeat!
"Jocko Johnson", United States -
[Jonathan Melle wrote]: "I even fell asleep as a passenger in a sitting and freezing 5-ton Army Vehicle with a weighty Kevlar helmet on because I was so tired. Moreover, now, in the post-9/11 world, when I watch “CNN”, the television pundits say that when an enemy Muslim terrorist is sleep deprived for even one day and night it is labeled TORTURE. WELL, I WAS SLEEP DEPRIVED FOR 3—COUNT THEM 3—DAYS! I WAS TORTURED!"
["Jocko Johnson wrote]: Phewwwww.....you sound like on heck of a soldier. You should return any va money you get
[Jonathan Melle wrote]:
I am PROUD of my service! I have the regards of our sitting President [George W Bush]. I protected innocent human lives.
What did Jack Downing do? NOTHING! YET, Jack Downing makes a 6 figure income off of the misery of our nation's Veterans.
I know what Jack Downing did, however, to serve not his country but rather a man. It involves him & Carmen Massimiano, who loves vulnerable men with their clothes off...
Boy, it must be nice to be Jack Downing! He is NOT a Veteran, but he did kiss Carmen Massimiano's big (**** = ass). Jack & Carmen both make 6 figures, while Veterans receive about 10 percent of Jack Downing's POLITICAL salary.
I am sorry that I am NOT Jack Downing! I am sorry that I served my country with honor and sacrifice instead of grabbing my ankles after falling to my knees for Carmen Massimiano.
- Jonathan Melle
"P Hughes", Pittsfield, Massachusetts - wrote:
"I thought Massimiano was married?"
[Jonathan Melle wrote]:
"Carmen Massimiano is married. Some think it is only for show so that he is seen as "legitimate" in the community and state government."
[Jonathan Melle wrote]:
Carmen Massimiano is CORRUPT. During the Spring of 1998, "Luciforo" -- part of Pittsfield's "Good Old Boy Network of Insiders" -- set up secretive plans with the Pittsfield Police Department to have me arrested based on "Luciforo's" false accusations that I was threatening him after "Luciforo" threatened me 2x prior. At the same time, "Luciforo", et al, tried to get my dad fired from his state job of then-over 2.5 decades and force him to resign his elected position of Berkshire County Commissioner. If "Luciforo" was successful in having me arrested, Carmen Massimiano would have seen to it that I would have been abused by his jailer staff!
After moving from my native Berkshire County after the first 28.5-years of my life to Southern New Hampshire in the Spring of 2004, or nearly 8 years after "Luciforo" tried to jail me, Carmen Massimiano told me that he knows I know everything that they tried to do to me: i.e., make me out to be a monster. Carmen Massimiano told me not to feel safe now that I don't live in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, anymore, and then he told me not to tell the people what they tried to do to me in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
- Jonathan Melle
[John Forbes] Kerry, veterans blast current state of care
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff
The Berkshire Eagle
Saturday, October 27, 2007
PITTSFIELD — About 50 veterans — most of them formerly homeless, many of them recovering addicts — sat on folding chairs in a common room of the United Veterans of America facility on West Housatonic Street, waiting for a chance to tell U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry what they need and are not getting from their government.
In a dark blue suit and pastel tie and ringed by TV cameras and reporters, Kerry looked little like his fellow veterans. He told them that the fight for benefits and proper care of the men and women returning from war is a battle that has been waged since the end of Vietnam. There have been some victories, he said, and some defeats.
"Supporting the troops is not just supporting them when they are in another country and they are in harm's way. Supporting the troops means keeping faith with people who wore the uniform when they come home," Kerry said. "That means we have got to make these lessons we have learned mean something. But it is as if these folks didn't learn any of these lessons right now."
Kerry made a swing through the Berkshires yesterday, beginning in North Adams and ending with the visit to the veterans before heading elsewhere in the state for the wake of a soldier killed in Iraq. It was the senator's first public visit to Berkshire County since September 2006.
The United Veterans of America is a private, nonprofit organization that has steadily expanded its services during the past five years. It converted a former nursing home into an 89-bed facility for homeless veterans and now is trying to expand further, hoping to build an apartment complex that would house its clients and give them a chance to own their homes and build a nest egg.
Congress has had to add up to $2 billion a year to President Bush's Veterans Affairs budget, and even then there is not enough to do the job, Kerry said.
"We are spending $12 billion a month in Iraq. And Iraqi children are getting immunized, American children are not. ... We have some priorities that are just out of whack," he said.
All of Kerry's comments yesterday were in response to questions from the audience. Asking for a show of hands, he called on a half-dozen veterans during his hour-long visit.
The veterans' stories were different and the same. Some had served during supposed peace time in hot spots such as Somalia and Beirut. Although they came home suffering from conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, they were met by a stubborn VA bureaucracy that refused to recognize their service or their symptoms, they said.
"I've got PTSD from trying to fight my PTSD," one veteran told Kerry.
Others said they shrank from treatment — "I was homeless in my body and homeless in my mind," one said — and now need support from places like the United Veterans of America as they try to find their lives again.
Henry Kenneth was in the Navy and stationed off the coast of Beirut in 1983 during Lebanon's bloody civil war, which included bombings of the U.S. Embassy and a military headquarters that killed more than 300 people.
Kenneth said the VA does not recognize his combat service and has refused to treat his PTSD. He was living in homeless shelters in his native Mississippi and trying in vain to find a facility that would treat him. He told Kerry that his senator, Thad Cochrane, helped him get to Massachusetts, where there are more veterans' services.
"He got me out of Mississippi because there is nothing there for veterans," he said.
Kerry called it "interesting" that some Southern senators vote against veterans' benefits, "but they are willing to dump them up here where we can take care of you and they don't have to do it. We ought to be getting them to do their fair share. ... I'm glad you're here, and I'm glad you're being taken care of."
Kerry pledged to look for ways to streamline the screening process that determines who receives what benefits, and said that Democrats in Congress are trying to get more money for veteran mental health treatment, centers and medical care.
"The way you show support for the troops is not just with a nice speech while you are over there, but you make sure you follow through on the promises made to them when they come back," he said.
Later, in an interview, Kenneth said that his battle is typical of his fellow residents at the United Veterans home. In many cases, their military records are incomplete or just wrong, and the truth gets crushed under the massive military bureaucracy, he said. It takes months just to get a medical exam, he added, and then months more before a condition actually gets treated.
"There is one guy in here who has been fighting for his stuff for 17 years. I've been going with mine for about two years," he said.
Asked whether a visit from someone of Kerry's stature will do any good, Kenneth said "the more awareness that people have of veterans' problems, the better."
The United Veterans of America is hoping for more than just awareness from Kerry. The private nonprofit is planning a veterans' apartment complex. The residents would own their apartments and get help paying the mortgage. When they left, they would sell the unit back to the organization, getting the benefit of the equity they have accumulated and allowing another veteran to take their place.
The buildings would cost about $6 million, according to the United Veterans. The state has pledged $3 million, and U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, secured an $800,000 federal earmark. The agency is still looking for an additional $2.2 million in funding.
"I am going to go back and see if there is some way we can figure out how to address some of the living issues, not just the treatment issues (that veterans face)," Kerry said. "But it all comes down to money. And the struggle for money, in the end, is who has what priority."
MULTIMEDIA: Click here to "view the video" from John Kerry's visit to the Berkshire Eagle on October 26, 2007.
An ethically-bankrupt political has-been answering meaningless, non-probing questions from The Eagle's ethically-bankrupt editors. Berkshire's Liberals must be in rapture.
By Glenn M. Heller, 10.27.07
"Mortgage help for U.S. veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 will allow the Veterans Administration to help a substantial number of veterans with sub-prime mortgages refinance into a safer, more affordable VA-guaranteed loan.
Veterans who wish to refinance their sub-prime or conventional mortgage may now do so for up to 100 percent of the value of the property. These types of loans were previously limited to 90 percent of the value. Additionally, Congress raised the VA's maximum loan amount for these types of loans. Previously, these refinancing loans were capped at $144,000. With the new legislation, such loans may be made up to $729,750 depending on where the property is located. These changes will allow more veterans to refinance through VA, allowing for savings on interest and potentially avoiding foreclosure.
For more information, or to obtain help from a VA loan specialist, veterans may call 1-877-827-3702 or visit www.homeloans.va.gov
WILLIAM T. BRADLEY
The writer is director of Veterans' Services for Adams.
"Vets housing project gets OK"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 07, 2008
PITTSFIELD — Loud applause and a chorus of "Thank you's" rang out in the City Council chambers last night as officials gave approval for a project that will provide housing for homeless veterans.
A standing room only crowd of veterans, many of whom will benefit from the project, rejoiced in the Pittsfield Community Development Board's unanimous approval of the 39-unit housing project on West Housatonic Street.
"I personally think this is a win-win project for veterans and the city of Pittsfield," said board member Alf Barbalunga, referring to the housing being on the property tax rolls.
"All along we wanted to be the best neighbors and have the best-looking project of the highest quality," said John F. Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, which will manage the housing on behalf of United Veterans of America.
The housing, Berkshire Veterans Village, will be built next to a 71-unit former nursing home, which Soldier On converted into housing for veterans. Construction on the project is expected to begin next spring.
Berkshire Housing Development Corp. is developing the $6.6 million facility, which is being funded with a combination of federal and state grants and private loans.
President Elton Ogden said the veterans group has already proven to be good neighbors.
"The veterans run a very quiet facility that is immaculate and well maintained," he said.
"One thing the military does well is train its people to clean and maintain their buildings," added Downing, drawing some laughs from the veterans. However, a neighbor of the project was not thrilled about it being so close to his property.
Patrick and Tammy Hayward, through their attorney Alexandra Glover, claimed the 39 units was too dense for the neighborhood and it did not meet the zoning requirements for the site.
"We're not starting a war with anyone," said Patrick Hayward, who has hired a lawyer to represent him in this matter. "We're just trying to protect our investment."
Hayward said he was not against the concept of housing for homeless veterans.
"I too am a veteran and the people here are well deserving of this project," Hayward added.
One of Hayward's concerns, which was supported by the Community Development Board, regarded the screening of the project from his house. Board member Sheila B. Irvin asked for assurances existing trees and new plantings will properly screen a stockade fence and the housing from neighbors.
"I want a green wall within a certain period of time," Irvin said.
The board reviewing the landscaping plan was one of 10 conditions placed on the project.
While the board approved the 39 units as multiple family dwellings, Soldier On plans to create a cooperative whereby 50 percent of the veterans rental payments would be deposited into individual savings accounts. The money would help the tenants build up assets through the project, but they would not own it.
Glover said a cooperative is not allowed where the veterans housing is being built.
Department of Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer replied that wasn't at issue before the board as the project was presented at multi-family housing.
"This is all speculative at this time," Ruffer said. "It's (Soldier On's) risk to take."
To reach Dick Lindsay: email@example.com or (413) 496-6233.
City: Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Veterans parade set"
The Berkshire Eagle Online, Saturday, November 08, 2008
PITTSFIELD — The annual Veterans Day Parade, sponsored by the Here at Home Committee, steps off at 10 a.m. Tuesday on North Street at the corner of Fenn and ends at the Veterans Memorial off South Street, according to the Department of Veterans Services.
The following roads in both directions will be closed starting at 9:30 a.m.:
. North Street, from Park Square to Fenn;
. Fenn Street, from North to First; and
. Allen Street, from Fenn to School.
The remainder of the route will be closed at 10 a.m.:
. North Street;
. the top of West Street;
. South Street;
. Veterans Way; and
. Colt Street.
There will be no parking on these streets listed after 8:30 a.m. Please remove your car before this time.
Keynote speaker announced
Fran Tremblay is master of ceremonies; the National Anthem will be sung by Mary Verdi. Opening remarks will be given by Mayor James M. Ruberto. The introduction of the keynote speaker will be given by Lt. Col. Barry Sebring.
USAF retired Lt. Col. Barry Sebring, the keynote speaker, flew B-52s for 22 years and retired in September 2006. He has been married 23 years to Tamala Sebring, a physics teacher at Pittsfield High, and they have a son, Raynor, who is a sophomore attending Pittsfield High School, and a daughter, Shelby, who is in the sixth grade at Lanesborough Elementary School.
The parade participants include: the Vietnam Color Guard Chapter 65; VFW Color Guard; PHS Marching Band; Pittsfield Sheriffs Department Color Guard; and the Pittsfield City Council and guests Sen. Benjamin Downing and state Rep. Christopher Speranzo.
Also, the DAV; Pittsfield American Legion Post 68; Marine Corps League; Taconic High School Marching Band; Barnes Air National Guard Honor Guard; speakers Col. Barry Sebring and Staff Sgt. Rosanne M. Frieri; Italian American War Veterans; Jewish War Veterans; and Dalton American Legion Post 155.
And Naval Sea Cadets; Boy's Scouts Troop 20; Pack 20 Cub Scouts; Girl Scouts; Pittsfield Fire Department; and the Here at Home Committee.
"Parades, Speakers Slated for Veterans Day"
iBerkshires.com-Staff reports, November 10, 2008
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Ceremonies and parades are being planned for Veterans Day on Tuesday, including in Berkshire County's two cities. Gov. Deval Patrick will march in Pittsfield's parade.
Both Pittsfield and North Adams will hold parades through their downtowns on Nov. 11, followed by remarks at the each city's veterans' memorial.
Veterans Day is marked every Nov. 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day a year later; after World War II, the day was expanded to recognize veterans of all wars.
Federal, state and local offices will be closed, as will libraries, schools, banks and post offices. Most retail operations will be open; the stock market will also be open. BerkshireRides and the BRTA will not be operating.
In Adams, American Legion Post 160 will hold a ceremony at 11 a.m. at Town Hall. Following the ceremony, the Legion will host a brunch at the post home on Forest Park Avenue.
In North Adams, the parade steps off at 10:30 a.m. from the American Legion, then up Main Street to Eagle Street to the Veterans Memorial.
The main speaker will be Petty Officer 3rd Class Sherman Baldwin III, a boatswain's mate in the Coast Guard; the guest speaker will be American Legion National Executive Chairman James Army.
Also speaking will be Mayor John Barrett III, American Legion Post 125 Cmdr. Dennis St. Pierre as master of ceremonies and American Legion Chaplain Louis Floriani. The Drury High School band will play the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" and Chris Mowe and Roger Simpson will play taps. The firing squad will be provided by Detachment 1, Engineer Company, 26th BSTB, Army National Guard based in Pittsfield. Michael Chalifoux, Vietnam Veterans of America post commander, will place the wreath.
Getting in the spirit at last year's Veterans Day in North Adams.
Participating in the process will be police,d firefighters and ambulance personnel, color guard members from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 996, American Veterans Post 100, American Legion Post 125 and Sons of American Legion Post 125; group commanders Alan Dominichini of the VFW, St. Pierre, Chalifoux, James Lambert of AMVETS and Michael Catrambone of the Navy Armed Guard Association; the North Adams Trolley, Drury band, VFW and Legion members and auxiliary members, and any veterans who wish to participate.
Parade participants are asked to be at the Legion by 10; coffee and doughnuts will be available for participants at 9:30. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held inside the American Legion.
Also in North Adams, Northern Berkshire Christian Church is offering its second annual Veterans Day dinner. The church at 55 Harding Ave. will host a free meal for all veterans and their families as a way to honor their service to the nation. Servings begin at 5 p.m. More information: 413-663-8998 or www.agnorthadams.com.
In Williamstown, American Legion Post 152 will hold its ceremony at 11 a.m. at the post on Latham Street. There will be a brief service conducted on the lawn, followed by a panel discussion by Legion members with audience participation in the hall.
In Pittsfield, the parade, sponsored by the Here at Home Committee, will begin at 10 a.m. at the corner of North and Fenn streets and will end at the Veterans Memorial off South Street.
Beginning at 9:30 a.m., North Street from Park Square to Fenn Street, Fenn from North to First Street and Allen Street from Fenn to School Street will be closed off. The remainder of the route, North Street, top of West Street, South Street, Veterans Way and Colt Street, will be closed at 10 a.m. There will be no parking on these streets after 8:30 a.m.
The keynote speaker will be retired Air Force Lt. Col. Barry Sebring, the husband of 23 years of Tamala Sebring, a physics teacher at Pittsfield High School. Their children are son Raynor, a sophomore at Pittsfield High, and daughter Shelby, a sixth-grader at Lanesborough Elementary School.
Born in Plattsburg, N.Y., in 1962, Sebring graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1984 with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace sngineering. He flew B-52s for 22 years until retiring in September 2006.
Also speaking will be Staff Sgt. Rosanne M.Frieri, Mayor James M. Ruberto and master of ceremonies Francis Tremblay. Mary Verdi will sing the national anthem.
The parade lineup also includes Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 65 color guard, VFW color guard, Pittsfield High marching band, sheriff's department color guard, city councilors, Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion Post 68, Marine Corps League, Taconic High marching band, Barnes Air National Guard honor guard, Italian American War Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Dalton American Legion Post 155, Naval Sea Cadets, Boy Scout Troop 20, Pack 20 Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Pittsfield Fire Department and the Here at Home Committee.
"The pride of Pittsfield: Today marks the 90th anniversary of WWI's end"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, November 11, 2008
It cost no more than a quarter to go to the movies in Pittsfield back then. A South Street gas company was selling "modern" gaslights designed to halt "the coal waste." Then, there was "Smocko," a tobacco-free cigarette billed as an "influenza germkiller."
But the big international news on Nov. 11, 1918?
World War I had finally come to an end after four years of struggle. That was 90 years ago today.
The German government accepted the armistice terms set forth by the Allied Forces, and the pact went into effect at 11 a.m. in Western Europe — or 6 a.m. on the East Coast.
In Pittsfield, Mayor W.C. Moulton immediately declared the day — Nov. 11, 1918 — to be a public holiday, asked all businesses to close, and shut down the city's schools. The day would become known as Armistice Day — marking the end of World War I, and later as Veterans Day when World War II ended.
Moulton also announced the formation of a "general parade" — the forerunner of today's Veterans Day Parade that will feature Gov. Deval L. Patrick. The parade was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. By all accounts, it was a spontaneous affair.
"Lack of time will prevent its formal organization," Moulton declared in his proclamation, which was published on the morning of Nov. 11 in the Berkshire Evening Eagle, "but everybody is invited to join."
Moulton urged any bands or drum corps that were available "to join in line," and urged the general citizenry "to carry flags and bring along any noise-making devices available."
Over in Springfield, 6-year-old George Champoux was playing in his backyard.
"All of a sudden, I heard all banging of things," said Champoux, 96, who now lives in Lee. "Coming down the street were a mixed gang of people, women and boys. They were banging on wash tubs — anything to make noise."
An evening celebration was also scheduled for a Pittsfield park at 8 p.m. The emotion was so great, that both the parade and the celebration were repeated the next day.
"Pittsfield citizens couldn't resist the temptation to take another day in which to express their joy," a headline from The Eagle stated.
There are no Berkshire County World War I veterans alive to remind us of what took place. But according to retired Lt. Col. Gregor Young of Pittsfield, the senior vice commander of American Legion Post 68 in Pittsfield, 3,000 men in the greater Pittsfield area served in "The Great War" and 88 of them died.
Their names are inscribed on the city's Veterans Memorial off South Street, which was erected in 1926, and is currently in need of repair.
Young, who served in Korea, had three family members fight in World War I.
His uncle, Michael Horrigan, who later became a Pittsfield police officer, served in France, and participated in the battles in the Meuse-Argonne region.
"He was gassed," Young said. "In those days, they didn't even have gas masks. ... A lot of the boys who came back, I think that's what helped kill them.
"It was a tough, tough war," Young added.
Charles White Whittlesey of Pittsfield, who graduated from Williams College in 1905, received the Congressional Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre for his actions in the Argonne Forest in October 1918.
A major in the Army's 77th Division, Whittlesey was in charge of a battalion of 554 soldiers that ended up being cut off from their comrades.
Separated from their supply lines and pinned down by the German Army, Whittlesey's troops spent the next few days without food or water. The men held out for four days.
On the fifth day, the Germans sent a blindfolded American POW with a white flag and a note asking them to surrender.
Whittlesey allegedly told the blindfolded soldier to "go to hell," — a statement that he later denied. (Whittlesey's version is that he told the captured soldier to "go to your post.")
The next day, the Allied Forces broke through and rescued his men.
Newspaper correspondents, enamored with the events, dubbed Whittlesey's men "The Lost Battalion."
Whittlesey, who was promoted on the battlefield to Lieutenant Colonel, committed suicide three years after the war ended. According to The New York Times, Whittlesey jumped off a steamship in November 1921 while traveling from New York to Havana. He was 37 years old.
His body was never found.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, (413) 496-6224.
Veterans Day 2008
"County celebrates service: Ruberto, Patrick honor 'heroes'"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, November 12, 2008
PITTSFIELD — When Barry Sebring was asked to be the keynote speaker for the Veterans Day parade in Pittsfield yesterday, he said he was honored, but unsure what to say at the solemn occasion.
"What do you say to the heroes that are here?" inquired Sebring, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. " 'Thank you' doesn't go very far."
Sebring's opening remarks came before the hundreds of veterans, Berkshire residents and government officials led by Mayor James M. Ruberto and Gov. Deval L. Patrick, who gathered for a ceremony at the Veterans' Memorial off South Street, following the parade.
Representatives from eight veterans groups placed wreaths before the memorial to honor their fallen comrades.
Sebring, who moved to Lanesborough with his family two years ago after a 22-year military career, said he decided to give a history lesson to illustrate key accomplishments veterans have made to preserving freedom and democracy.
Sebring began his service June 6, 1944, D-day, in which allied forces stormed the beaches of France to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany during World War II.
Working backwards to World War I, he discussed the final Battle of Flanders in 1918 which was the last push toward victory over Germany by allied forces who were heavily reinforced by the recent arrival of U.S. troops led by Gen. John J. Pershing.
The American entrance into "the war to end all wars" resulted in Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1918, which would become Veterans Day when World War II ended.
Sebring then recalled a rousing speech given by Col. Joshua Chamberlain from Maine, who was trying to keep 120 would-be Civil War deserters from fleeing the Union Army during the Battle of Gettysburg. Sebring said Chamberlain reminded the men that they joined the army to keep the country together and "to set men free."
Chamberlain's pep talk worked, and all but two of the soldiers picked up their muskets and continued to fight, according to Sebring.
Finally, Sebring reminded the crowd the U.S. Marine Corps was borne out of the Revolutionary War 233 years ago on Nov. 10, 1775. General George Washington of the Continental Army urged the Continental Congress to fund the military unit for "the preparation for war to ensure peace."
"Whether Baghdad, Bosnia or Boston in 1776," Sebring said, "what we need to do is continue to be the world's policemen."
"Our duty as veterans is to tell the young people what we're all about," Sebring said as the conclusion to his history lesson. "They are our future leaders."
Prior to Sebring's keynote address, Patrick said the accomplishments of those men and women who've fought for our country should be remembered year round.
"Their example of giving is something we must carry beyond Veteran's Day," Patrick said. "Placing themselves in harm's way for the rest of us is a distinct quality of democracy."
A Pittsfield veteran who has given plenty back to his fellow veterans and the community received the city's "Veteran of the Year" award during the ceremony.
Retired Lt. Col. Gregor T. Young, vice commander of Pittsfield American Legion Post 68, was cited by the city's Department of Veteran's Services for his numerous accomplishments. Pittsfield's veteran's agent Rosanne Frieri said Young's latest effort is spearheading the drive to restore the 82-year-old Veterans' Memorial, which has been vandalized and become weatherbeaten over the years.
To reach Dick Lindsay: (413) 496-6233; email@example.com.
Veterans Day Parade
"Locals open up during procession"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Heather Williamson and the four children she was caring for were positioned along Veterans' Way yesterday morning, braving the cold, raw weather.
They were among the hundreds of people who watched the Pittsfield Veterans Day parade and took in the ceremony that followed at the Veteran's Memorial off South Street.
Two of the youngsters, Madeline Coco, 6, and her sister Charlotte, 4, were waiving small American flags in anticipation of the patriotic procession. Molly Pope, 1, and 5-month old Andrew Hamel, too young to understand what was going on, were bundled up in their tandem stroller.
Today's young people need to hear and see what the veterans have done for them, according to retired Air Force Lt. Col. Barry Sebring, who was the keynote speaker during the ceremony at the Veterans' Memorial.
Williamson and the children were there to support the veterans and watch Williamson's husband, Shelby, march by on behalf of the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
"All my income today from child care I'm donating to Soldier On," Williamson said of the organization that is building new housing for homeless veterans next to its current facility for veterans on West Housatonic Street.
"(Soldier On) does amazing work and I was happy the project was finally approved," she added. The City Council approved a 39-unit project last week.
Excuse Williamson for being partial to Soldier On, part of United Veterans of America: She worked at their facility in Leeds for 31/2 years.
Bill and Mary Walsh, of Dalton, said they wished even more people would come to honor the veterans.
"They all worked so hard to fight for what we have," said Mary Walsh, dressed in a red, white, and blue scarf and sweater.
An original member of the military family support group at the Berkshire County Chapter of the American Red Cross, Walsh said she also encourages servicemen and women returning from combat overseas to open up about their experience.
"People are free to come and talk or they can just sit and take it all in," said Walsh.
"We have lots of Kleenex and broad shoulders," added Barbara Fillio, of Dalton, whose son, a retired Marine, served one year in Iraq.
Walsh's husband, Bill, spent 22 years in the Navy. He unwillingly entered the service in 1972, immediately after graduating from UMass-Amherst where he had protested the Vietnam War and the military in general.
"The day after I graduated, I got home and saw my draft notice on the table," Walsh said. "I thought my world had come to an end."
It didn't, and soon he did an about-face toward his perception of the military.
"My viewpoint changed once I joined my unit," Walsh added "I enjoyed the camaraderie and began to understand what the military was all about."
Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said during the ceremony that the ultimate goal of Veterans Day is wiping out war worldwide.
"Literally, we pray for the same thing every year — true peace," Ruberto said. "The total elimination of conflict."
"Help our brave soldiers"
TheTranscript.com, Saturday, November 29, 2008
To the Editor:
I am certain that all of us, regardless of our feelings about this tragic war, do honor and respect our troops who are living in an alien environment with constant danger, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan. Also, the families left at home who never go to sleep or wake in the morning without the constant worry over their loved ones. Hopefully, the sons and daughters, husbands and wives will come home soon.
There are some of our brave soldiers who are now in the United States but suffer daily from horrific wounds and require constant monitoring. We've seen some of the pictures and can only pray that someday most will be able to live a normal life again.
A majority of these wounded soldiers are stationed at Walter Reed campus in Washington, D.C. This is a facility that was in the news last year for improper care but has now been upgraded under new leadership. There is little we can do. We can't visit, hold a hand or write a letter for those who cannot do so.
However, there is one small thing we can do, and that is send a Christmas card to those hospitalized. You do not have to limit it to one.
Send to: A Recovering Soldier, c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 6900 Gerogia Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20307-5001.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Nov. 27, 2008
"Homeless vets shovel after storm"
Updated: 3/2/2009, 4:13 P.M., By: Ryan Burgess, Capital News 9, Albany, NY covering Pittsfield & Berkshire County, Massachusetts.
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts -- "We have people shoveling snow at Soldier On and we come out to the nursing homes and places like this," said homeless veteran William Relation.
It's the calm after a snow storm outside Rosewood Assisted Living Center in Pittsfield. That's where two homeless veterans from a facility called Soldier On are shoveling snow and ice. But they're not here because they have to be.
"In many cases, we're just driving along and notice someone needs help and we just stop by and ask if they need help and give our assistance. It's good to give back to the community because the community gives so much to us veterans," said homeless veteran James Heiden.
Sometimes the vets are paid, but most often they shovel for free.
Heiden has battled substance abuse and depression for years. He says clearing snow is a way to shovel through his own real life storm.
"We help each other, which is great. But also we're here today to help the community, which is twice as good," said Heiden.
"They don't get enough credit for everything they've done for us as Americans. I feel that it's my duty as a citizen to have them come here and help them out," said Rosewood Assisted Living owner Chris Chojnowski.
Mildred Greenleaf has only lived at Rosewood for three months. But she says just knowing the veterans are out clearing snow and ice has made it a safer winter.
"They do such a good job. And they always make sure the snow is gone," said Greenleaf.
A lot of the veterans say they prefer to stay outside for a few hours at a time after the storm has cleared to do their free shoveling. So after the snow stops, if you hear a knock on your door, it just might be your lucky day.
"Homeless vets shovel after storm"
This latest blast of snowy weather is probably enough to make you shiver at the thought of shoveling out your driveway. But as our Ryan Burgess tells us, there's one group of homeless veterans that may do all the work for you.
"Veterans group seeking building"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, March 30, 2009
OTIS — A fledgling veterans organization in South County is seeking members and a building that will serve the group and community at large.
Earlier this month, American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 77 officially became one of the 1.400 chartered AMVETS chapters across the country and only the second in Berkshire County, the other being in North Adams.
Post 77 Commander Thomas Soules Sr., who served in the Army National Guard from 1975 to 1981, said AMVETS will welcome all area veterans to join the nearly two dozen who've already enlisted.
"Now that we have a charter and are incorporated," said Soules, "we hope to get a lot more members."
Unlike American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Soules said AMVETS is open to anyone who honorably served in the military — including the National Guard and reserves. AMVETS, according to its national Web site, was initially formed more than 60 years ago to help returning World War II veterans get the services they needed. Since then, AMVETS has expanded to serve all veterans and their communities.
In addition to helping the 120 veterans living in Otis and surrounding towns, the founders of AMVETS Post 77 — who currently meet at Otis Town Hall — also want a permanent home base that will double as a much-needed social gathering place for the town.
"We need something to work out of," said post member Phil Cooley, a naval veteran who served during the Vietnam War. "We need some kind of facility."
"We need it for meetings and community functions," added Soules.
The veterans group has been raising money for the past year toward a new building and the land to build it on.
Soules and Cooley said forming the local AMVETS chapter will ultimately serve as a reminder to everyone why veterans are honored on occasions such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
"When I put on my uniform and marched with my uncle Denny (Curtin) for the first time," Soules said was a proud moment for him.
"You see someone (in uniform) walking down the street," Cooley added, "they are a symbol of our freedom."
If you are interested in joining the newly formed chapter of AMVETS in Otis or would like to give toward its new meeting house, write or send checks to AMVETS Post 77, Box 587, Otis, MA 01253, or call Post 77 Commander Thomas Soules Sr. at (413) 269-6014 or Phil Cooley at (413) 854-1747 for more info.
Re: Jack Downing's "Veterans' organization" gave Lobbyist Larkin $22,500 in 2008!
Please click on the following link:
You will have seen that Jack Downing's "Veterans' Organization" gave Peter J "Lobbyist" Larkin a whopping $22,500 last year.
To read more about the NON-Veteran, political-HACK, Jack Downing, please visit my Blog site:
As a Disabled Veteran, I fully believe that Jack Downing is what is wrong with America! Our nation did not send our men & women into the military so that a political hack like Jack Downing, who never served a day in uniform, can misuse a Veterans' Organization to redistribute public and private dollars from needy Veterans to a corrupt Lobbyist named Peter J. Larkin from Pittsfield, Massachusetts!
I wonder what, if anything, Peter J. Larkin, did on behalf of the Western Massachusetts needy Veterans whom Jack Downing does these disservices against. Was Lobbyist Larkin's "work" really worth $22,500 in 2008? I really doubt it.
Jack Downing's "Veterans' Organization" were soliciting emergency donations because the homeless shelters were running out of food. Well, if Jack Downing did NOT give the needy Veterans' money to Peter J "Lobbyist" Larkin, then these Veterans would have had plenty of food!
Jack Downing is the biggest phony in the World! He is a political hack for Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C Massimiano II's Pittsfield Political Machine that support the "Good Old Boy Network" of Catholic Political Hacks who have run Pittsfield's local economy into the ground for their own perverse political and financial interests. This time Jack Downing went too far. Using needy Veterans to fund Peter "Lobbyist" Larkin's coffers is a slap in the face of decency itself!
Peter J Larkin is a corrupted lobbyist paid by GE to ensure that the Housatonic River flows with GE's left behind cancer causing toxic waste PCB pollution! To read more about Lobbyist Larkin, please visit my Blog site:
Money, Money, Money, MONEY!
Enter the year 2008; For "name", enter "Larkin"; For "search type", enter "ends with"; For "type", enter "lobbyist".
Images of Peter J "Lobbyist" Larkin
"Johnny improvement to help vets"
By FRED CONTRADA - firstname.lastname@example.org - The (Springfield) Republican, Wednesday, April 22, 2009
NORTHAMPTON - Soldier On, which operates a homeless shelter on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds, is hoping to go into the hospital johnny business.
The new and improved coverings, tentatively called "rodneys," would generate revenues for Soldier On veterans' programs while enhancing the personal privacy of medical patients.
The motto is "We're A Good Organization Looking for a Little Less Exposure."
John F. Downing, executive director of Soldier On, said last week that the idea for the venture came up about three years ago when he and Darby O'Brien, who runs the Darby O'Brien advertising agency, were discussing a New York Times story about a patient at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The man had fallen out of bed while trying to push a call button, and ended up crawling along a hospital corridor. His hospital gown, a loose-fitting garment called a johnny, slipped down and caused him embarrassment.
"That started the conversation," said Downing, who was outraged. "From that time on, we talked and said we'd see if we could get something together."
According to O'Brien, the term "rodney" harks back to the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who frequently complained, "I don't get no respect." Hospital johnnies fit loosely, with openings in the back so that medical professionals can have easy access to patients, according to Christina Trinchero, the public relations director at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
Soldier On received 26 responses to an advertisement looking for a designer to partner with it on the project.
"There's been a tremendous response," Downing said. "We're shocked by it."
Money raised through the venture will support Soldier On's programs for veterans, including 39 units of housing under construction in Pittsfield that will allow veterans to live independently and inexpensively. Downing estimated that the housing will be ready for occupancy in 14 months.
The project reflects a trend among nonprofit organizations of developing commercial ventures to augment fund-raising, according to Downing. "You need to develop an income stream," he said.
Downing hopes he will have an eager customer for the new garments in the Veterans Administration, which operates hospitals across the country.
Downing and O'Brien plan to screen potential partners in the coming months.
The advertisement was created with funding from Robinson Donovan, a Springfield-based law firm that stepped forward last year to create a partnership with Soldier On by providing legal support and marketing resources.
"Northampton police investigate activists' claims of assault"
By: Sharon So and Marianna Nash, Mount Holyoke News, Issue date: 4/23/2009, Section: News
Recent allegations of police brutality against a black disabled veteran during an arrest sparked a rally that started at 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon outside the First Churches in Northampton.
Alphonso Southerland, 54, who had previously resided at Soldier On, a homeless shelter for veterans based in Pittsfield and Leeds, was arrested on April 10 when he was caught shoplifting a $128 jacket from Urban Outfitters in Northampton. He was booked at a police station and then transferred to the Hampshire Jail and House of Correction.
When his friend Aaron Daniels arrived to deliver his bail, correction officers found Southerland lying in his cell, unconscious. He was transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital, during which time he slipped into a coma. Hospital officials said he had suffered a heart attack.
In the following weeks, several local blogs posted claims that Northampton police had used undue force while arresting Southerland. The Northampton police department began investigating the allegations.
"When this was brought to our attention, our staff reviewed all video documentation from the time he was in custody," said Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz, adding that video records showed the veteran unharmed.
"He was a cooperative individual, never exhibited any injuries, never complained of mistreatment," said Sienkiewicz.
"We didn't beat him up," Northampton Police Lieutenant Michael Patenaude told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. "He was brought to the jail for holding and then he had a heart attack before he was bailed out." John Downing, President and C.E.O. of Soldier On, said he did not believe the police assaulted the veteran.
"It was when a friend of his arrived to bail him out, that correction officers at the regional lockup discovered that he'd had a heart attack while in custody, and he was transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital," said Sienkiewicz.
The department interviewed medical staff who had examined Southerland. "None of them observed any injuries related to beating," said Sienkiewicz.
Southerland's friend, Aaron Daniels, declined to speak with reporters until he had conferred with certain groups involved in the protests. "I was told to wait until they got it together," he said, adding that another rally was being planned.
However, Daniels told grassroots blog WMass Indymedia that he had seen Southerland lying on the floor of his cell with untreated injuries.
Southerland's mother and daughter are coming to Northampton from Boston to file suit, according to Daniels.
Following the investigation, Sienkiewicz said, most media outlets dropped the story.
"It's not a story. It's just baseless allegations against the police department," said Sienkiewicz.
The protests come on the heels of a series of demonstrations against the Business Improvement District, which could potentially impose restrictions on panhandlers. Two protesters were arrested at a demonstration on March 13, one of whom was charged with assault and battery on a police officer.
Beatriz "BB Sunshine" Bianco, a Hampshire College student, protest organizer and author of one of the blog posts alleging the police assault, could not be reached for comment.
"Help vets in fight against litter"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, June 20, 2009
To the Editor:
Your local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter has been cleaning six parks in North Adams this summer.
We took on this project after a member saw a TV show detailing how a person’s mood and even their health can be affected by seeing garbage and trash. This is especially true for children.
We have found that the following items make up almost all the trash in about equal percentages: cigarette butts and packages, beer, wine and liquor cans and bottles, soft drink cans and plastic bottles, fast food and convenience store cups, containers and wrappers -- along with lottery tickets -- account for 90 percent of the litter.
On July 1, 2 and 3, we will be asking our fellow citizens to pick up any trash near their work or home for our nation’s birthday on July 4th. There won’t be any meetings, gathering places, parties or the like. If a hundred citizens just pick up around their homes, the result will be tremendous.
Some people will always litter. It is almost impossible to catch anyone. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years, and you just don’t see people throwing things on the ground or out of the car window.
What we have found is that when we keep picking it up, the amount of litter thrown down decreases.
We know that most people have an aversion to picking up someone’s litter, however, if we keep at it, our property values will increase and our children and grandchildren won’t have to grow up with litter.
Our country and state around us are very beautiful at this time of the year. Let’s not let a few ruin it for the many.
Bernie Roberts reminds everyone that the club’s Food Pantry is open from 1 until 3 on Sunday afternoon and 7 until 9 on Monday night. A family of four making less than $38,203 is eligible, and the amount increases or decreases with family size.
The Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts Inc. is financially supporting the club almost totally during these tough times. We receive no state or federal money.
North Adams, Massachusetts
June 19, 2009
The writer is president of the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Shannon Varney (third from left) ran last week with fiancee Robyn DesMarais and members of the veterans running club he started, which is opposed by New England Center for Homeless Veterans. (George Rizer/ Globe Staff)
"Running into opposition: Homeless shelter at odds with new veterans club"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, June 29, 2009
In the despair of his extended unemployment, Shannon Varney found solace in running.
The sense of accomplishment he got from it, he thought, would be worth sharing with others in need of direction, and so the 26-year-old analyst, laid off from Goldman Sachs, decided to start a running club at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. The plan was going well and over the past two months, about 15 homeless veterans joined him three days a week for workouts that began at 5:30 a.m.
Then he hit an unexpected snag.
Last week, the shelter sent him a letter, ordering him to “immediately cease and desist.’’
When Varney called officials at the shelter, they told him they didn’t want any association with his budding organization, which he dubbed Veterans Up and Running and hopes to expand to other shelters for homeless veterans. They told him that he couldn’t use their name in his literature and that they were concerned his money-raising efforts could hamper their own. He was barred from going into the shelter to recruit more runners or supporting those who had already joined him.
“I couldn’t believe it - and the guys who started training were furious,’’ Varney said. “The most maddening thing is that I’m serving their constituents. I’m trying to help improve their lives, and it seemed to be working. The guys kept coming and felt they were getting something out of it, something that would help them get back on their feet.’’
The shelter originally welcomed Varney at one of its monthly meetings, where he shared his story and found a group of former runners - many of them suffering from addictions to alcohol or drugs - who were looking for a focus and a way to get healthy.
“He’s a young and well-intentioned fellow, but I don’t think we realized what he was looking to do,’’ said Larry Fitzmaurice, the shelter’s chief executive. Fitzmaurice noted that the shelter, which relies on donations to pay for one-third of its $6 million budget, must compete with other nonprofit organizations for contributions. He said he didn’t want the shelter to get involved with anything that could jeopardize its future and the 450 people it houses on the coldest nights.
“I can’t be Mother Teresa to the world,’’ Fitzmaurice said. “My job is to make this place work. I just can’t be spending all my time with people who want to do a good thing for veterans. That’s not what I’m paid to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish him well.’’
Why not allow Varney to recruit runners at future meetings but make it clear that he’s from a separate organization?
“I know he’s unhappy about it, but if he’s here, it appears we’re legally supporting what he’s doing,’’ Fitzmaurice said. “If he wants to meet the guys on the sidewalk, they can do that. But we just can’t make it a New England Center for Homeless Veterans-sponsored event.’’
Since receiving the letter, Varney, who has been out of work a year, has removed all references to the shelter from his marketing materials and has started meeting the veterans on City Hall Plaza.
But he worries that his plans to grow his organization - he hopes to raise $125,000 this year to sponsor scholarships and job-training programs, and pay himself a salary - will be blunted without the ability to enlist veterans and reward them for their efforts in group meetings.
The shelter’s cold shoulder has disturbed many of the veterans who have signed on and are just starting to build up their stamina.
“It’s very discouraging,’’ said John Broder, 45, a veteran of the Army National Guard in the program. “It’s hard not to be disparaging to the shelter as a result of this. The shelter is supposed to be about getting vets back into society and getting us ready for work. What we’re doing here is the foundation of that: We’re building self-esteem and working toward a goal.’’
Varney’s plan is to build the veterans up slowly until they’re ready to run a race, perhaps a 5K or 10K. Those who prove their commitment by attending the workouts regularly will get uniforms and running shoes; some of the men now are running in jeans, desert camouflage pants, and other street clothes. Many already have running shoes, as a result of philanthropy efforts by New Balance, the Brighton-based shoe company.
“It would be better if we didn’t have to do this on the down-low,’’ said Bill Morris, 41, an Army veteran who trained as a paratrooper and hopes to recapture some of the glory from his days in basic training, when he said he won a platoon competition by running 2 miles in less than 12 minutes. “There’s too much legal mumbo-jumbo. We’re trying to do a good thing. I don’t understand why the shelter’s being unreasonable.’’
On a recent morning, Varney rounded up 10 runners, including his fiancee and his sister, both of whom have taken part in much of the training.
He handed out Military Channel T-shirts - one of Varney’s first sponsors - organized the group in two lines, and led them on a slow jog from City Hall through Faneuil Hall Marketplace to Christopher Columbus Park in the North End, less than a mile away.
Like a drill sergeant, their “fearless leader,’’ as the veterans have started calling Varney, put them through a series of stretches and a battery of exercises, including sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping jacks. The veterans struggled through it and sweated profusely.
As they jogged back to City Hall, shouting military sound-offs along the way, some of the veterans joked about cheese steaks and Starbucks. Others complained of cramps.
“It feels good to sweat,’’ said Jean Occeus, 30, an Army National Guard veteran. “My goal is to run until I can’t run anymore.’’
Then Varney ordered the group to sprint up and down the stairs from Congress Street to City Hall Plaza. The more they did it, the slower they climbed.
But they kept going until they reached the goal they vowed to complete.
“These guys are really fired up,’’ Varney said. “That’s got to be a good thing. We want this to be more than some street-corner affiliation. We hope the results speak for themselves.’’
David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
"Pittsfield Vintage fixtures to light statues n City officials have found the original brass hardware from the WWI monument, which is being restored."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 7/13/2009
PITTSFIELD -- The original lights that once illuminated the city’s World War I monument off South Street will again shine brightly after being found hidden away for years.
The Pittsfield Veterans Memorial Committee, charged with restoring the bronze statues, had no idea where the two brass light fixtures had been stored -- or even if they still existed -- since they were removed decades ago. Then in early June, the city’s parks director, James McGrath, stumbled upon the lighting in an old storage building at Springside Park, according committee Chairman Jeff Thompson.
"He knew immediately what they were," said Thompson. "They were truly buried in a barn that is almost falling down."
He noted the vintage 1926 lights are already being restored with the plan to have them re-installed and working by early September. The committee will pay for the work -- the cost yet-to-be determined -- using money that had been set aside for new lights.
Thompson hopes the Veterans Memorial shining at night again will be "an inspirational story" leading to more donations toward the restoration, which is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $85,000. So far, the committee has more than $42,000 in the bank which includes the $34,000 collected since fundraising began in April and the money left over from when the monument was dedicated 83-years ago.
In an effort to conclude the fundraising campaign by year’s end, Thompson said the committee has erected a sign near Park Square, reminding people the need to refurbish the memorial. The statues of four soldiers surrounding the goddess of war have been battered for decades by weather and vandals.
And the Pittsfield American Defenders of the New England Collegiate Baseball League is pitching in to help restore the Veterans Memorial. General Manager Jon Tosches said the committee will get to keep the proceeds of all the tickets it sells to the team’s home game on July 25. He added a 50-50 raffle and other events that night at Wahconah Park will also be held on behalf of the restoration project.
To reach Dick Lindsay:firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6233.
July 15, 2009
Rosanne Frieri was appointed to her position as Pittsfield's Veterans Director by Mayor Jimmy Ruberto after he forced Larry Caprari, who always -- & ultimately successfully -- advocated for me as a Disabled Veteran, to retire because Larry Caprari actually believed in helping Veterans instead of being forced & threatened by the Mayor of Pittsfield to fudge numbers to receive more state & federal monies for the city government. Mayor Jimmy Ruberto told Caprari that he was NOT going to reappoint him when his term ended, and he kept his word. When Jimmy Ruberto ran for Mayor in 2003, Rosanne Frieri was present at all of his campaign events as a photographer who took picture after picture after picture of Jimmy Ruberto campaigning. Mayor Jimmy Ruberto showed Mr Caprari the door after 3 decades of his faithful service to the city & nation in late-2006. During that period of time, I wrote the Mayor of Pittsfield the following:
"You did not even have the decency to return my letter asking you to be kind to Larry Caprari when he retires in early-January, 2007. You are an A__HOLE for threatening not to re-appoint him after he helped me and so many other local Veterans. You probably even asked Mr. Caprari not to write to the VA a letter in support of my case. You probably would be happy to see me as a homeless disabled Veteran. Moreover, you only want to fill posts with patronage appointments to make yourself look good. Mr. Caprari's replacement will be more about you than the city's Veterans! That is terrible."
So when the NON-Veteran Mayor James M. Ruberto will be presented the Patriot Award by the National Guard and Reserve in a 2 p.m. ceremony tomorrow (7/16/2009) at Pittsfield City Hall, my beliefs that he misused the city's Veterans Office for his own self-serving ends will be vindicated! After all, and with NO surprise: "Ruberto was nominated for this award by Air National Guard Staff Sergeant and veteran's services director for the city, Rosanne Frieri, who said, 'He is well deserving of this honor.'"
- Jonathan Melle
P.S. Mayor Jimmy Ruberto's "leadership" on "helping" Veterans also includes Soldier On's Jack Downing giving Lobbyist Peter J Larkin $22,500 in 2008 while holding "emergency" food drives for hungry homeless Veterans. Mayor Jimmy Ruberto, Rosanne Frieri, Jack Downing, et al, are all misusing the cause of advocating for and helping Veterans for their own political interests!
JACK DOWNING IS NOT A VETERAN!
"Mayor Ruberto to Receive Patriot Award"
www.iberkshires.com - July 15, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Mayor James M. Ruberto will be presented the Patriot Award by representatives from the Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve at 2 on Thursday, July 16, at City Hall.
Mayor Ruberto was nominated by Air National Guard Staff Sgt. and Pittsfield’s Veteran’s Services Director Rosanne Frieri. “Mayor Ruberto’s support of the military has been Outstanding,” Frieri commented. “He has participated in multiple events from Memorial Day Ceremonies to a bridge dedication, including proclaiming: ‘All Military week in Pittsfield’. Through his efforts he continues to support the ‘HERE at HOME’ committee, welcoming home deployed soldiers. He is well deserving of this honor.”
“When I found out that Rosanne nominated me and I was chosen as a recipient of the Patriot Award I was humbled,” said Mayor Ruberto. “The men and women that serve and protect our Country and our freedoms are heroes and I will continue to support them any way that I can as the Mayor.”
The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard conducts the awards program designed to recognize employers who support a strong National Guard and Reserve force. Employers qualify for recognition when they practice leadership and personnel policies that support employee participation in the Guard and Reserve.
Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto (file photo)
"Ruberto will defer to Frieri"
By Sophie Maguire, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, July 17, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto was presented an award Thursday afternoon.
He just didn't have the heart to accept it, though. He knew someone who was more deserving.
At City Hall, Ruberto was presented with the Patriot Award by representatives of the Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The award is given to individuals who actively support military efforts and encourage participation in the National Guard and Reserve.
But after being handed the award, the mayor turned and presented it to Rosanna Frieri, director of Pittsfield's Veterans Services, for her endless work in recognizing and supporting the military in and around Berkshire County.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Mutti said Frieri's work helps facilitate a relationship between military personnel and the community, especially with projects such as the Here at Home Committee, in which she is instrumental. The committee welcomes home and celebrates soldiers from Berkshire County who have served abroad.
Frieri said the mayor has placed an emphasis on building a strong foundation for supporting the troops, both at home and abroad.
"The mayor has an overall concern for the military," said Frieri who, together with Mutti, nominated Ruberto.
Most notable of the mayor's achievements, according to the folks who nominated him, has been his proclamation of "All Military Week in Pittsfield" and his work with the Here at Home Committee.
"Homeless veterans to get housing with help of federal funds"
By Laura Crimaldi, Thursday, July 16, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Coverage
An infusion of $3.4 million in federal funding is about to end the painful experience of homelessness for 350 veterans in the Bay State, according to federal officials.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given 350 rental assistance vouchers to housing authorities in eight Bay State cities.
The allocation is part of $75 million national effort to provide 10,000 homeless veterans with permanent housing.
“It allows people to keep sober and clean and get their affairs together,” said Steve Como, executive vice president of Soldier On, which runs veterans homeless shelters in Northampton and Pittsfield.
Last night, Como said there were 250 homeless veterans in the care of Soldier On’s two shelters. While the average age of most homeless veteran is 53, Como said he is seeing more veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The average age of these veterans is 25 and many more of them are women.
“They come back with much bigger and deeper needs,” Como said.
In the Boston area, 1,950 former service members are considered homeless.
Rental assistance issued by HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program works like Section 8 vouchers and will allow veterans to rent private housing at a fixed rate of 30 percent of their income. All voucher recipients will be assigned a case worker from the VA Healthcare System.
Como said that the vouchers will be made available on August 1, 2009.
The Bay State received $2.5 million for 245 rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans during the first round of funding in 2008.
The housing authorities receiving vouchers for homeless veterans are Boston, Chelmsford, New Bedford, Worcester, Northampton, Cambridge and Braintree. An additional 35 vouchers were given to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
"Vets continue clean-up effort"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, 7/17/2009
To the Editor:
The Vietnam Veterans of America 54 extends our sincere thanks to the many citizens who participated in the clean-up for three days just before July 4.
Someone is doing a very good job on Eagle Street, and all over town cleanliness is becoming the norm. Also, our appreciation for those who are no longer throwing litter out of their cars. Members of the club clean seven parks and areas on a daily basis, and there is simply less litter being thrown down.
We were mentioned in the paper last week as being difficult to work with by Lt. Crowsen of the Salvation Army. Neither Bernie Roberts nor I have ever talked with Lt. Crowsen. When Bernie heard they were having trouble, he called and volunteered to deliver their food to the local person there. The Transcript really should have called us for a comment. To invoke the stereotype is really kind of low.
But as long as you let us keep cleaning up the litter and distributing food, we will be happy. Over $430,000 worth of good nutritious food over the last 22 months has been distributed to our fellow citizens in Northern Berkshire.
We live in a beautiful area. Please help us keep it free of litter.
North Adams, Massachusetts
July 16, 2009
The writer is president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.
"Vets continue local programs"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, September 5, 2009
To the Editor:
Bernie Roberts would like to report that we have wrapped up our second year of food distribution, and to date we have distributed around $540,000 worth of very good nutritious food to our fellow citizens here in Northern Berkshire. A family of four that brings in less than $40,793 is eligible for food every week.
The Adopt-A-Park seems to be catching on. Someone is doing a great job at the corner of River and North Holden streets. Many of us are retired, and we feel that cleaning up is a little thing we can do for all the workers. Also, you are welcome to all the people who honk or nod or wave at us as you are going by.
Almost all our funding is from veterans and veterans organizations. We receive no state or federal funds. The Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts is paying the bills and granting Vietnam Veterans of America 54 all the money for our projects.
North Adams, Massachusetts
September 2, 2009
The writer is president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 54.
"Family mourns ‘Vet of the Month'"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, September 6, 2009
ADAMS -- His family believes it is a fitting tribute to a man who spent more than 20 years of his life helping fellow veterans.
Daniel J. Denault was named by State Treasurer Timothy Cahill as Massachusetts' "Veteran of the Month" on Sept. 1.
Denault passed away Aug. 26.
"He had just gotten the call a few days before he died," said Lisa Denault Viale, his daughter. "He was very proud."
Denault, 61, a Clarksburg native, ran Pittsfield's Veterans Outreach Center for 20 years, securing services and benefits for veterans and helping them get back on their feet.
Before that, he had served in the jungles of Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, a member of a four-man Army reconnaissance unit that operated in and around Pleiku, a highlands region ripe with conflict.
Only two of the men in his unit made it back to the States alive, and Denault suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.
He married Mary Gwozdz, and they bought a home in Adams where they raised their daughter. Denault worked as a machinist at Beloit Jones for 11 years.
But in 1980, a newspaper ad looking for a veterans advocate caught his eye. He interviewed for the job and was hired.
Over the years he helped veterans get jobs, find housing and receive benefits. He'd meet with politicians like Sen. John Kerry to lobby for funding for veterans.
Jim Norchi, 61, who served on a Navy missile cruiser from 1970 to 1973, said Denault "held his hand" through some tough times in his life.
"If you were struggling, Danny was the guy who could find some way to help you out," Norchi said. "He was one of the most compassionate guys I've ever met. He was the best veterans advocate we've ever had. They should name a bridge after him."
Denault, a Clarksburg native, was one of 11 children born to the late Lawrence and Alice Denault. Five of the Denault boys would go on to serve in the military.
His brother, Ed Denault, 62, a Navy veteran, said Denault was very humble about his service to country and rarely spoke about his war stories.
"He even wanted us to leave out mention of his Purple Heart in his obituary," Ed Denault said. "He cared more about helping veterans than receiving any recognition."
Denault also was the Post Commander for VFW Post 996 in North Adams and co-founder (with his brother Ed Denault) of VFW Post 9144 in Clarksburg.
He also served as the veterans service officer in Lanesborough.
Denault had been fighting a battle with pancreatic cancer since February 2008. Denault Viale, 33, said her father was strong right up until the end. The two went to a car show two weeks before he died and went fishing on the Deerfield River just a week before.
In addition to being an avid hunter and angler, Denault had a passion for classic cars. Another fitting tribute before he passed away, Denault Viale said, was getting his "baby" -- a 1970 mango-colored Dodge Challenger -- on the front cover of Hemmings Motor News magazine in the September 2009 issue.
Just as with the "Veteran of the Month" award, Denault found out about the magazine cover in the days before his death.
"It was kind of sad that he didn't get to enjoy either one fully," she said. "But it was a honor for us. He deserved it."
To reach Benning W. De La Mater: email@example.com, (413) 496-6243.
"Admiral to join Berkshire vets"
By Jenn Smith, The Berkshire Eagle, Wednesday, September 23, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- The nation's top ranking officer in the United States Armed Services will be in Pittsfield next month to support breaking ground on a new housing project for homeless war veterans.
On October 29, 2009, Admiral Mike Mullen, a longtime naval man and current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit the future site of Soldier On's 39-unit limited equity project, which is expected to serve as a national model for transitioning homeless veterans to homeowners.
The project is the first of its kind.
"This has turned into the kind of event we never could have expected," said Jack Downing, president and chief executive officer of the Leeds-based nonprofit, Soldier On. "It validates the integrity and passion and way of life that we've developed for our veterans."
Since 1994, the Soldier On (formerly United Veterans of America) group has been helping homeless veterans by providing them shelter, counseling, job training and education.
In addition to its headquarters in Leeds, the organization currently operates a facility at 360 West Housatonic Street and is planning to convert the former Optimum Care Nursing Home into a new $6.6 million Berkshire Veterans Village.
The two existing residences house between 70 and 120 people at any given time, and are managed by a council of homeless veterans.
The new transitional housing project will allow veterans the opportunity to purchase an equity share.
The value of their share will be held in trust and will be available to them should they choose to move out, or it will become part of their estate. The housing units will be managed by the veterans who purchase equity in the apartments. While making their transition, veterans will also continue to have access to the support services Soldier On provides.
Mullen will be at the Pittsfield Plaza on West Housatonic Street on Thursday, October 29, 2009, when a noontime ceremony is scheduled. Mullen will be joined by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, ABC News war correspondent Bob Woodruff; Stephen Coyle, CEO of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust; and Gordon Mansfield, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as Soldier On members and local officials.
Later in the day, at a separate private dinner event, Mullen is scheduled to receive the Soldier On Award in recognition of his efforts to help homeless veterans. Local sculptor Andrew DeVries has been commissioned to create the award piece.
For more information on Soldier On, visit www.wesoldieron.org.
"Homeless Veterans Organization Prepares to Honor Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman"
Admiral Mike Mullen will receive the Soldier On Award at Oct. 29 event
NORTHAMPTON, Mass., Sept. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Armed Services, has been tapped to receive the Soldier On Award for 2009. The award, which recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the cause of ending veteran homelessness, is presented by Soldier On, a non-profit organization based in Northampton. Admiral Mullen, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military, will be on hand to receive the 2009 award at a tribute dinner to be held October 29 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.
Soldier On has been working to get homeless veterans off the street since 1994. The organization, which operates a shelter in Leeds, Massachusetts, and a transitional living facility in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, provides veterans with housing, counseling, job training, education and access to medical and psychological health services. Soldier On is currently preparing to begin construction on a historic, first-of-its-kind limited equity housing project for formerly homeless veterans.
In a January 2008 meeting with Soldier On President & CEO Jack Downing, Admiral Mullen made a commitment to support Soldier On in its ongoing efforts to create a permanent solution to veteran homelessness. He also pledged to begin implementing strategies that will help military personnel and their families readjust following a return from conflict. In June 2008 Admiral Mullen, at Downing's request, made a public policy statement at the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans conference in Washington, D.C., announcing his formal commitment to solving the problem of homelessness among veterans.
Earlier on the day of the tribute dinner, Admiral Mullen will be part of a groundbreaking ceremony in Pittsfield for Soldier On's first 39-unit limited equity housing project. Intended to serve as a national model, the project is an effort to change the end of the story for formerly homeless veterans. Veterans who have successfully moved through Soldier On's shelter and transitional housing facilities will have the opportunity to complete the transition from homelessness to home ownership by purchasing an equity share in one of the project's apartments. A second limited equity housing project is currently planned for Leeds, Massachusetts.
Admiral Mullen's participation in the groundbreaking underscores the commitment to Soldier On's mission that led to the decision to present him with the Soldier On Award. At the dinner event, Admiral Mullen will receive an original bronze sculpture created by internationally acclaimed artist Andrew DeVries specifically for Soldier On Award recipients.
Admiral Mullen is the 17th and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is the highest ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces. Admiral Mullen previously served as the Navy's 28th Chief of Naval Operations. His other four-star assignments include Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe; Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples; and 32nd Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
Soldier On's tribute dinner for Admiral Mullen will be attended by Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, and Stephen Coyle, CEO of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, Gordon Mansfield, former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and Bob Woodruff, war correspondent for ABC TV and founder of reMIND, a non profit created to assist veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more information, visit wesoldieron.org.
"Help blanket giveaway for vets"
The North Adams Transcript, October 21, 2009
To the Editor:
Well, folks are telling me it’s getting pretty cold, so I guess its time for the second annual Vietnam Veterans of America Great Blanket Giveaway.
If you have any good clean blankets that you may not need, please bring them to our club on 30 River St. in North Adams during the next few weeks. They will be greatly appreciated.
We distribute them on Sunday between 1 and 3 and on Monday night between 7 and 9. We are distributing about $10,000 worth of good nutritious food every week to your neighbors. We receive no state or federal funding for our programs.
I thank Jeff Lefebvre and Ann Morin for their concern for our veterans. Please, though, if you are going to donate to a veterans organization, please donate locally.
North Adams, Massachusetts
October 17, 2009
The writer is vice president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 54, in North Adams.
Hygienist Kim Jones cleans a patient’s teeth at Hillcrest Dental Center on South Street in Pittsfield. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Helping the needy"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, October 22, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- A half-decade ago, Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, was having a tough time getting dental care for the homeless veterans serviced by his organization.
Trying to get dentists in Western Massachusetts to accept VA vouchers promising future payment was like pulling teeth -- extremely difficult.
But during a meeting with Gerard Burke, president and CEO of Hillcrest Educational Centers, Downing told the chief of the Pittsfield-based nonprofit organization about his dental woes.
"[Burke] said, ‘I have a dental clinic.' And I said, ‘You do? I had no idea Hillcrest had a dental clinic,' " said Downing, recalling that serendipitous meeting.
That was five years ago. A few months later, Soldier On clients were getting their cavities filled and their teeth polished by the staff of Hillcrest Dental Care, located at 788 South St. in Pittsfield.
"It's such a perfect match," said Downing, remembering the extreme difficulty of getting dental care for vets prior to that meeting with Burke.
"To have those guys go from a state of toothlessness to a state of beautiful, sparkling teeth is such an image booster," Downing said.
In addition to veterans, Hillcrest Dental Care's patients tend to be Berkshire residents struggling to make ends meet -- those at risk of slipping through the cracks in a region ripe with opulence and indigence.
Hillcrest officials say they need help to continue their abiding mission to provide dental care to those in need, including the physically and mentally handicapped.
Hillcrest is more than halfway finished with a $130,000 fundraiser to build two new dental treatment rooms at its South Street facility. More than $80,000 has been raised so far, according to officials, who hope to raise the $50,000 balance through a mix of private donations.
The expansion will also allow Hillcrest to hire four new employees -- two dentists and two dental assistants -- and to treat an additional 2,000 patients yearly, for a grand total of 8,000 patients.
"Currently, we are the largest provider in Western Massachusetts for providing services to people with MassHealth," said Burke, referring to the state agency that administers health care services for low-income residents.
The expansion is "urgently needed" to ensure "quality and accessible oral health care for the most vulnerable members of our community," Burke said. "The fact that we have gotten this far so quickly [with the fundraiser] indicates people understand the value of this service."
Hillcrest Dental Care is the largest provider of oral health services to the low-income and special needs community of Western Massachusetts, according to Burke. The organization's services are in demand in other parts of Massachusetts -- including the Pioneer Valley and Cape Cod -- but Hillcrest does not have immediate plans to expand beyond the Berkshires.
However, Burke said, Hillcrest does hope to offer a shuttle service to North County patients who need to get to get to Pittsfield for dental appointments.
The state-of-the-art facility on South Street currently provides dental care to more than 6,000 patients, nearly 2,000 of whom are under age 16. In addition to Soldier On, which has facilities in Pittsfield and Northampton, Hillcrest is the exclusive or primary dental care provider to Berkshire County Arc, the Riverbrook Residence for Women, and Berkshire Meadows, among numerous other organizations and special-needs institutions.
"The significant part of this is that we're providing a service that a lot of other organizations in the Berkshires don't provide," Burke said.
Considering MassHealth's low insurance reimbursement rate -- roughly 60 cents on the dollar -- many local, private dentistry practices don't accept the low-income insurance. Only about 40 percent of all registered dentists in Massachusetts accept MassHealth, according to state data.
Burke said Hillcrest Dental, established in 1985, has capitalized on this by steadily expanding to support MassHealth recipients and other special needs programs in the Berkshires.
The Pittsfield facility includes the latest, cutting-edge dental equipment and employs 18 people -- five dentists, three hygienists, six assistants, three office workers and an operations director. Under the expansion plan, the staff will grow to 22 employees.
Elizabeth Elliot, director of nursing services at Berkshire Meadows, a residential school in Housatonic for children and young adults with severe developmental disabilities, praised Hillcrest for "providing exemplary care" to special needs patients.
Many of Berkshire Meadows' students are severely mentally retarded, physically handicapped, or "exhibit challenging behaviors," Elliot said.
"Over the years, we have had many unsuccessful attempts at utilizing dental services in the community," she said. "The dentists and staff of Hillcrest Dental Care have the knowledge, the skills and the patience required to provide care for these individuals. Perhaps more importantly, they have the dedication and commitment."
To reach Conor Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6249.
"The Independent Investor: Soldier On Changing the End of the Story"
By Bill Schmick, iBerkshires Columnist, Friday, October 23, 2009
What does a veterans' organization that provides shelter, counseling, education and job training to homeless vets have to do with business and investment? Plenty, if their radical plan to convert homeless vets into homeowners succeeds.
The organization is breaking ground this month on what is called the Berkshire Veterans Village in Pittsfield, a group of limited-equity cooperative apartments paid for by funds from a variety of government and charitable sources. The idea is to offer these 20 to 40 condos to homeless vets. The recipients will be single individuals who have completed a transitional housing program and have demonstrated the ability to live independently. These vets will pay a set rent each month of around $550. That money will first go toward paying maintenance and utilities and then the remainder will be split evenly among the condo residents and banked over the course of three years. At the end of that time, if the vet has complied with all aspects of the program, he will begin to receive those funds and establish a limited equity stake in his unit.
Obviously, in order for the renter to continue his monthly payments, he or she would have to be gainfully employed for a lengthy period of time. They will also need to be involved in the community on a daily basis. That means taking care of their place and making sure that others do as well. The belief is that by providing a stake in society through this program the homeless would be motivated to clean up their act.
I asked Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, how this differs from traditional treatment that most homeless vets receive.
"Under traditional methods, a homeless and usually substance-addicted veteran will come in and receive the very best shelter and treatment the VA can offer for 30 to 60 or 90 days and then be turned back out into society, maybe with some financial assistance, to get a job, an education, to establish a new life," explains Downing.
Downing should know since he has been involved in helping the homeless and addicts since 1967, when he set up the first recovery center for heroin addicts in Pittsfield.
"I realized we were lying to these vets. What was really happening was a ricochet event where they were put back out on the streets and within three months were bouncing back to us for another three months and then back out in an unending circle. In a capitalistic society, unless a person has an ownership stake, they don't feel like they belong."
It dawned on Downing that he and all the federal and state programs were part of the problem not its solution.
"We needed to re-think how we handle troubled people. Instead of branding them as failures, we need to offer them a way back, and we think we've found a way."
It seems clear that some in the government believe Downing and his vets are on to something. The federal government has committed $1.692 million, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expected to offer further subsidies to eligible veterans. Soldier On also expects Massachusetts' commitment, through the state's Department of Housing and Community Development, will approach $3 million. Downing hopes to fill any gaps in financing with charitable contributions and they have raised $45,000 so far.
Soldier On has two sites in Massachusetts: a 120-bed shelter in Leeds and housing for another 71 veterans in Pittsfield. The organization serves an average of 541 vets a year. The majority of its clients are between 40 and 59 years of age and nearly all of these veterans come in with mental health and/or substance abuse problems.
Unfortunately, the efforts of Soldier On are just a drop in the bucket. One out of five of America's homeless are vets (about 250,000) while 15 percent of men in prison are also vets. But the problem of how to care for and what to do with troubled people in America goes way beyond veterans. For all the billions of dollars we have spent on this problem, the solution continues to elude us. That's what makes this pilot program so intriguing. If it works in the Berkshires, it could work across the country and not just with vets. Wouldn't that be something?
If you are in the Berkshires at noon on Thursday, Oct. 29, you can meet Downing over at the old Berkshire Plaza on Route 20 in Pittsfield for the groundbreaking of this project. Later on that day in Holyoke, he will also be presenting the 2009 Soldier On Award to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If you want to hear more about the project you can listen to my radio interview with Downing on Vox radio Friday morning at 8:35, 9:35 and 11:05.
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management (BMM), managing more than $200 million for investors in the Berkshires. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of BMM. None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or e-mail him at email@example.com Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill’s insights.
You can also tune in to Bill’s "@theMarket" show on Vox radio every Friday morning at 8:35, 9:35 and 11:05 or on WBRK at 4:05 every weekday afternoon.
"Pittsfield Soldier On: Building starts"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 29, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Thursday was a grand day for veteran Eli Simmons, a musician and construction worker from Chicago who will soon call Pittsfield home. As the sun shone down, Simmons spoke about a bright future.
Not only does Simmons plan to live in a new veterans’ housing facility being built on West Housatonic Street, but he hopes to help construct the state-of-the-art complex, dubbed the Berkshire Veterans Village.
"I’m going to build it and live in it," said Simmons, who arrived at the Soldier On facility in Northampton in September but already is staking his future in this region.
Back in Chicago, Simmons worked in the construction industry for 30 years and struggled to make ends meet. But the proud veteran decided to relocate to New England to take advantage of the services provided by Soldier On, the Northampton-based nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the phenomenon of homeless veterans.
To that end, Soldier On is the organization behind the $6.6 million apartment complex currently under construction on the site of the former Optimum Care Nursing Home on West Housatonic Street.
"Nobody wants a handout," said Simmons. "This is a ‘hand up,’ baby."
On Thursday, Soldier On President Jack Downing hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the nearly vacant Pittsfield Plaza on West Housatonic Street, which is located just west of the construction site.
He was joined by his nephew, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, and a slew of other dignitaries ranging from Lt. Gov. Tim Murray to Gordon Mansfield, the former deputy secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Armed Services -- and Bob Woodruff, an ABC news correspondent wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006, originally were expected to appear at the Pittsfield ceremony, but neither man could make it, according to Jack Downing.
However, Mullen and Woodruff were scheduled to appear at a Thursday evening event in Holyoke, where Mullen was expected to receive the 2009 Soldier On award in recognition of his efforts on behalf of homeless veterans. After he was injured in Iraq, Woodruff founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation and ReMIND.org, organizations that provide support to injured service members, veterans and their families.
In Pittsfield, Downing, the president and CEO of Soldier On, spoke before a crowd of at least 300 people -- a mix of veterans, community leaders and politicians -- who gathered under a massive, white tent to learn more about the eco-friendly facility, which is expected to serve as a national model for transforming formerly homeless veterans into homeowners.
Downing said the limited equity housing project will give veterans the opportunity to own their homes by purchasing equity shares in the apartment complex. The value of a veteran’s share will be held in escrow, and if a resident chooses to move out, the value of their share will be made available to them.
The housing units will be managed by the veterans who purchase equity in the apartments. Those veterans will have completed a progression from Soldier On’s Shelter in the Leeds section of Northampton to the organization’s existing transitional facility in Pittsfield. After that, they are eligible to buy into the new equity housing complex, where they will continue to receive support from Soldier On.
Solider On plans to build another limited equity project in Leeds. The organization is also eyeing the former police academy in Agawam as a potential housing site.
The Pittsfield project got under way this fall, according to Steve Como, vice president of Soldier On, who expects work to be done by September 2010.
"They’re actually ahead of schedule," he said, referring to Salco Construction Company Inc., the project’s Pittsfield-based general contractor.
Project funding comes from a mix of federal, state and local sources, including the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, MassHousing, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of Pittsfield, various local and regional banks, and numerous other sources.
Since 1994, Soldier On (formerly United Veterans of America) has been helping homeless veterans by providing them shelter, counseling, job training and education. In addition to its headquarters in Leeds, Soldier On currently operates the transitional housing facility in Pittsfield at 360 W. Housatonic St.
For more information on Soldier On, visit www.wesoldieron.org.
Related news article web-link:
"Back Soldier On in its noble work"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 15, 2009
I am ashamed to admit that neither my husband or me have attended a Veterans Day celebration since our discharge from the Air Force in 1955 until this year. We found the event very rewarding and emotional. Although none of our children are in the military now, a son and daughter have served in the past.
There are many ways in which to support our troops here and abroad. Pittsfield is fortunate to have an organization called Soldier On where homeless veterans are rehabilitated and provided with transitional housing.
The government has not been able to help all the veterans in need so that Soldier On has been a blessing for them. We intend to support them locally and hope others will do the same.
NORMA PURDY & THOMAS PURDY
"Vets continue local efforts"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, 1/19/2010
To the Editor:
Bernie Roberts, director of the Vietnam Veterans of America food program on River Street in North Adams, reports that we have passed the $750,000 mark of food distributed in the past two and one half years.
The pantry is open from 1 to 3 p.m. every Sunday and every Monday night from 7 until 9. Those eligible must have an income of less than $20,036 for an individual, $26,955 for a family of two, $33,874 for a family of three, $40,793 for a family of four, $47,712 for a family of five. Also eligible is anyone who participates in any of the following programs: Food Stamps/SNAP, AFDC, WIC, Welfare, Medicaid, SSI, Head Start, Fuel Assistance or Veteran’s Aid. Families with five members or more, please add $6,919 for each family member over five.
Bernie is very good at this, and he goes to the Food Bank in Hatfield once a week and returns with between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of food on every trip. All that food, which is highly nutritious, is distributed during the week to around 300 families.
Adopt-A-Park will be a little spotty during the winter, as the snow keeps covering up the trash before we can get to it. This past summer, we included the strip of land between the intersection of Routes 2 and 8 by the Ellipse Dam just past Gallup Street. At first we were picking up a couple of bags for each trip. However, after a couple of weeks the trash got lighter. By the end of the summer, the "strip" was on many days trash-free for the entire day.
Most litterbugs only throw trash down where there already is trash. We also noticed during the summer many other citizens cleaning up places like River and North Holden streets and Eagle Street; clearly someone had decided to adopt those locations. There were many locations throughout the city like that. We also saw quite a few people picking up litter and making our city look great.
This year, we would like to expand the daily cleanup through the entire town. It can be done. The Transcript can play a huge role in this endeavor, as can the schools and the many wonderful clubs in town.
There won’t be any meetings or awards. There are enough of us who appreciate a clean environment to make this work. Yes, we are going to have to pick up other inconsiderate people’s trash. There is no getting around that unpleasant fact. But once it is picked up, that particular piece is gone forever. We don’t have to keep looking at it every day as we drive or walk by it.
Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts Inc. is funding almost all of the activities at the Vietnam Veterans of America Club here in North Adams.
North Adams, Massachusetts
January 14, 2010
The writer is president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.
"Vets continue community projects"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, April 1, 2010
To the Editor:
The food pantry [at 30 River Street] is going full speed. We are seeing around 200 families a week, every week. Bernie Roberts, food pantry director, reminds everyone that the pantry is open from 1 until 3 p.m. on Sunday and 7 to 9 p.m. every Monday. For further information, please log on to www.nbvva.com.
Bernie would also like anyone interested to know that we have about 30 wooden pallets, 4-by-4 feet, that we have to get rid of, and we get about three a week. We also have a lot of really good cardboard boxes that we have to throw away every week if anyone can use them.
Adopt-a-Park is starting early, and we did get a good jump on it last fall. We estimate that if only about 30 people picked up a little bit of the trash in their own neighborhood and a few others adopt a major thoroughfare to pick up every day, we can make huge progress toward a clean community.
If everyone would please cover their garbage Dumpsters, that would make a big difference -- also if the convenience stores and fast-food restaurants would police up a couple of times a day, that would help greatly. Unfortunately, we are always going too have to pick up after some unfortunate person who was not brought up with a love of nature.
North Adams, Massachusetts
March 30, 2010
The writer is president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 54 in North Adams.
North Adams/Adams: "VA van to visit April 17, 2010"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 8, 2010
The Veterans Administration's mobile van will make stops in North Adams and Adams to provide veterans with information on education, medical issues, compensation, pension and to answer questions. The van will visit Saturday, April 17, at 8:30 a.m., in the Walmart parking lot on Route 8, North Adams, and at noon in the Big Y parking lot on Myrtle Street, Adams.
There will also be booklets available on benefits for veterans of Massachusetts. A licensed acupuncturist will be in attendance to offer information on alternate pain relief.
Veterans of North Adams, Adams, Florida, Savoy, Cheshire, Hancock, Clarksburg, Williamstown, New Ashford, Readsboro, Vt., and Stamford, Vt., are invited to take advantage of the van's visit.
For more information, call the veterans offices in North Adams at (413) 662-3040 or in Adams at (413) 743-8320.
"Clothing drive on to aid homeless vets"
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, May 29, 2010
ADAMS -- Hot on the heels of his successful clothing drive for homeless veterans this winter, Town Meeting member Jeff Lefebvre has decided to take up the cause again -- this time collecting summer clothes for the area’s homeless vets.
Last fall and winter, Lefebvre and a few other volunteers collected 48 boxes of winter clothes for vets in need at the Soldier On home in Pittsfield. Lefebvre said that he was recently speaking with employees of Soldier On and found out that the number of homeless veterans had increased, and that the home was in desperate need of summer garb.
"There’s 279 veterans in the area that are homeless between the two major homes in Pittsfield and Northampton," Lefebvre said. "I asked if they needed anything for the new arrivals, and they said they needed more clothes. They said we got them a good amount of coats and long pants and boots, but now they needed lighter stuff. Summer is here."
Lefebvre said the home is looking for short sleeved shirts, T-shirts, sandals, sneakers, shorts, light summer pants and new underwear and toiletries. He added that the home does not need any donations of heavy clothing this time like coats and thermal underwear.
"I was hoping that at this point the numbers would be going down," he said. "But they just seem to be increasing. It’s a sad state."
Lefebvre said that he is willing to pick up clothes from anyone that cannot bring them to him. He added that if anyone has a tag sale and has clothes left over they were just going to throw out, he’ll gladly come get them.
"These folks went out and did so much for us," Lefebvre said. "When they come home, a lot of people are really happy to see them and cheering them on. But after the first month, that dies and they still have problems and issues."
Many veterans, Lefebvre said, have come home to find they no longer have a job because their employer got around government regulations -- which preserve jobs for soldiers while they are deployed -- by saying the position was eliminated due to the economy, not that the veteran was fired. Once unemployment runs out, Lefebvre said, vets can sometimes find themselves out on the street.
He said to help combat these circumstances, veterans should contact their local veterans agent because there is additional help beyond state unemployment they can tap into.
"After unemployment does run out," Lefebvre said. "Check with the veterans agent, because there is something called Chapter 115 money for veterans who are homeless. They can help."
Lefebvre encouraged anyone interested in donating or helping to call him at (413) 743-5175 or Pamela Morin at (413) 743-4111.
To reach Ryan Hutton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo Credit: Holland Hinman/Governor’s Office)
"Massachusetts Expands Veterans Housing Services"
Source: Governor of Massachusetts
Posted on: 2nd August 2010
Division of Capital Asset Management will transfer land in Agawam to Soldiers On to develop additional housing and services for veterans.
Governor Deval Patrick has signed into law legislation that will transfer a parcel of state owned land to the United Veterans of America, also known as “Soldier On,” in Agawam.
The law, “An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey Certain Land in the Town of Agawam,” will lead to increased services and the construction of limited equity cooperative housing for homeless veterans.
“Our military service men and women deserve the very best support upon their return,” said Governor Patrick. “I want to thank our partners in the Legislature, as well as Soldier On, for their support of this legislation that will build upon the existing services for veterans and offer benefits they have rightfully earned.”
“As Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in services for veterans, this legislation provides a unique opportunity to transfer state land to support housing for our veteran community,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans Services. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Legislature and Soldier On to enhance housing and critical services for our military service men and women as they transition home.”
“Today marks a great win for Massachusetts Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans’ Services Tom Kelley. “Soldier On has a proud history of providing services to veterans in need, and the passing of this bill means even more veterans will benefit. I applaud their efforts and the Patrick-Murray Administration for seeing to it that this works continues. Together, we will ensure that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in veterans’ services.”
The property, formerly the State Police Training Academy, is currently underutilized. By transferring this state owned land, Soldier On has agreed to purchase 6.9 acres of the total 50-acre property for $1 with plans to break ground on a $12 million housing construction project in the fall or spring.
The first phase of this project will create approximately 40 525-square foot studio apartments with the potential to create up to 100 housing units for veterans.
Additionally, once redeveloped, veterans will have the opportunity to buy shares in a cooperative, paying real estate taxes to the town, adding a boost to the local property tax base. Soldier On will finance this project through a mix of state and federal grants, as well as loans dedicated to affordable housing.
“We are very grateful to Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray, as well as Senator Buoniconti and Representative Sandlin for their leadership to end veteran homelessness,” said John F. Downing, President and CEO of Soldier On. “Today, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to donate a building and land for homeless veterans, which will allow Soldier On to build permanent housing that they will own and manage. This project will become a national model on how we end veteran homelessness.”
“I am very pleased and truly honored that the Governor is signing the legislation allowing Agawam to be the host community for the much needed Soldier On program. It’s a great opportunity for veterans who are in need of services,” said Mayor Richard A. Cohen.
“This legislation presents a terrific opportunity to reuse an abandoned building and surplus state land to create much-needed housing opportunities for our returning veterans. The addition of 125 housing units will add to the town’s property tax base, provide construction jobs in the near future and help stimulate our local economy. Today’s ceremony is the culmination of more than 18 months of legislative effort. I’m thrilled to be here today,” said Representative Rosemary Sandlin.
Soldier On currently serves homeless veterans of U.S. military service at shelters in Leeds and Pittsfield, with a mission to end homelessness among veterans by providing permanent, sustainable, safe, affordable housing with support services that veterans will own and operate.
On average, Soldier On supports 500 homeless veterans in 170 emergency, transitional and permanent supported housing units. As part of their mission, Soldier On is committed to providing an environment of integrity, dignity and hope that will help veterans regain physical and mental stability, housing and employment, economic stability and become contributing members of their community.
The Patrick-Murray Administration has made Massachusetts a national leader in veterans’ services. The Commonwealth is the only state in the nation to offer local financial assistance – for food, clothing, shelter, housing and medical care – to its veterans and dependants in need.
Massachusetts also provides workforce training assistance and one of the highest “Welcome Home” bonuses in the nation to veterans who return from overseas deployments and active duty military service.
In addition, the state issues additional bonuses for multiple deployments – an improvement Governor Patrick signed into law on Veterans’ Day 2009.
The work of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services and its partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, other state agencies and veterans’ organizations has led to many services and benefits for veterans.
For more information about the Department of Veterans’ Services, including affordable, no-down payment mortgage financing for veterans run by MassHousing, Chapter 115 Benefits, and a 24-hour suicide prevention and benefit referral hotline run by the Department of Veterans’ Services, visit www.mass.gov/veterans.
"Getting help to homeless veterans"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, August 9, 2010
To the Editor:
On any given night, more than 275,000 veterans can be found huddled on the streets and under the bridges of our country. One in five homeless Americans is a veteran.
The veterans we serve are men and women who have served our country and who now struggle with a variety of issues. They have mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse problems and other issues that require treatment.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides health services but was not created to address homelessness. And other organizations that work with the homeless are not equipped to deal with the unique needs of veterans (information from Soldier On website).
I would like to thank everyone for making the homeless veterans summer clothing drive a huge success for Solder On. And a special thank you to TD Bank and Pat Tatro of North Adams for money they donated for shower supplies.
And also Ryan Hutton of the North Adams Transcript for writing such a great story and Roy Thomas for his TV show, "Hard Line," for helping me get the word out about the clothing drive.
We collected 125 boxes of summer clothes, shorts, pants, short- and long-sleeved shirts, T-shirts, shoes, sandals, underwear, socks, etc., for both men and women.
We will be starting our winter clothing drive for the homeless veterans in mid October. This will be our eighth year.
Jeffrey Lefebvre and Anne Morin
"Sen. Kerry to visit veterans, hold rally"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 1, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry will be in Pittsfield today to get out the vote, especially among area veterans.
Kerry will lead a noon rally at the American Legion Post 68 on Wendell Avenue to support local veterans and remind them their vote is important on Tuesday, Election Day, organizers said in announcement released Sunday afternoon. The rally also welcomes active servicemen and women, their families and all other interested voters.
The event will also feature Coleman Nee, state undersecretary of Veterans Affairs, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Mayors James M. Ruberto and Setti Warren from Pittsfield and Newton, respectively.
Prior to the political rally, Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War, will take a private tour of the newly completed $6.1 million housing facility at the Solider On complex on Housatonic Street.
The Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community is providing condominium-style units for 39 homeless veterans, in addition to the 32 veterans already living at Soldier On.
To reach Dick Lindsay: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6233.
U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., speaks on Monday (11/1/2010) during a rally at the Pittsfield American Legion. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Tom Clark, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, will be moving into a new complex in Pittsfield designed for homeless veterans. The housing (above) was begun last year with federal and state funds. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
"A haven for homeless veterans: Pittsfield community a first in the nation"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, November 8, 2010
PITTSFIELD — Like too many veterans of the Vietnam War, Tom Clark has been homeless for years. Now he’s making a list of all the domestic items he will soon need — a loveseat, vacuum cleaner, an iron — and considering things he never imagined would be a concern, such as how to match his bedding with curtains.
“This is unbelievable that this is possible,’’ said Clark, 58, a former Marine corporal, as he shared his list of household items with fellow veterans from nearby shelters who will join him this month in a new, daintily manicured complex in Pittsfield.
It is the nation’s first community of its kind for homeless veterans and part of a new approach to fighting homelessness: Instead of moving those without homes into overcrowded emergency shelters or transitional places far from services, the $6.1 million project that looks like a high-end condo complex provides them with attractive one-bedroom and studio apartments for as long as they want to stay.
The new community, which was built beside a shelter for veterans and includes an array of mental health and addiction services, allows the veterans to buy in with a $2,500 deposit and, depending on the size of the apartment, make regular payments of either $640 or $740 from their disability checks or other income to an association that they run.
Local banks are helping some of the veterans cover their deposits, and others will be allowed to pay them over time. They will also build equity, and the units will be theirs as long as they make their payments.
“There’s nowhere else like this in the country,’’ said Peter Dougherty, director of homeless veterans’ programs for the US Department of Veterans Affairs, who said that last year, there were an estimated 107,000 homeless veterans, down from about 250,000 a decade ago.
“It offers a unique opportunity to take veterans that have been homeless and turn them into homeowners,’’ he said. “It really is an opportunity that has not happened in other places yet. We’re really interested in seeing how well it works.’’
The project was the idea of the directors of Soldier On, a local nonprofit provider of services for homeless veterans that houses about 500 veterans a year at shelters and transitional housing in Pittsfield and Leeds. The group broke ground last year on the project after receiving money from a congressional earmark and state grants.
Jack Downing, president of Soldier On, said he was inspired by the idea that there is a simple solution to homelessness: housing. But he noted that the challenge in previous efforts to house the homeless has not just been finding housing but keeping the homeless in their homes.
“I realized that we were sending people to facilities where they were going to be isolated and lonely, which is the gateway to mental illness,’’ said Downing, whose group plans an additional 120 units for homeless veterans at the former State Police Training Academy in Agawam and a similar number of homes on the Veterans Affairs campus in Northampton. “When I saw what else was out there, I thought that we had to come up with something different.’’
Unlike other programs, he said, their project will give the homeless a sense of ownership and a feeling of permanence. They will be free to decorate their new homes as they like and do what they choose inside. But when they experience hard times or have other problems, they will be able to turn to a community of like-minded veterans who will be their neighbors.
They will also be able get help when needed from social workers and therapists at the adjacent shelter, which is separated from the new development by a small parking lot.
“It’s taken a lot to get this launched, but this is where homelessness ends,’’ Downing said. “We expect this is where these guys will spend the rest of their lives. We’re going to build a memorial wall here, so people know who lived and died here.’’
Unlike the shelters and other housing run by Soldier On, which sometimes removes people if they are caught drinking or using drugs, act violently, or violate other policies, he said there will be few rules for the veterans moving into the new housing, aside from obeying the law.
“We will treat them like adults,’’ Downing said.
The project is named the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community, after the former deputy secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs Department. Mansfield served from 2005 to 2008 and helped build support for the project.
“This is completely unique and hopefully leads us in a different direction,’’ Mansfield said in a phone interview, noting that the high expenses would make it a difficult program to replicate on a large scale. “I really believe that this is the kind of solution we need.’’
The multicolored apartments each have large windows and closets, solar panels on the roofs, modern kitchens, tiled floors, and handicap-accessible showers.
Most of them look onto a grassy courtyard with newly planted trees, benches, and other amenities, including several Vermont Castings grills and a horseshoe pit. There will also be a laundry room and gym for residents.
The scope of the project has made the veterans, who were chosen from a pool of residents at Soldier On’s other facilities, excited and nervous.
Lenny Costa, 58, a former Army corporal who spent years fighting a heroin addiction, said he hasn’t been able to sleep recently, because he was so excited about his new place.
“It did scare me for a while, but I’m going to have a big safety net all around,’’ said Costa, who said he can hardly wait to take up cooking. “The way things are I can’t afford not to live here. All I can say is that we’re really fortunate.’’
Jay Baran, 47, who served as a fireman in the Coast Guard, said he feels like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.’’
“I keep thinking, ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home,’ ’’ he said. “This is as much of a win-win opportunity as I could have imagined. I’d be crazy not to take this.’’
As for Tom Clark, his list includes a colander and blender, a cutlery set, baking pans, end tables, and the stuff that turns water blue in the toilet. It continues to grow as other vets give him ideas.
“I see this as a new beginning,’’ he said. “Really, it’s the beginning of a new life.’’
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pittsfield resident Michael Stiehle Jones, a five-year Marine Corps veteran, says the only time he feels at ease is when he goes free-diving. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Fighting never ends for soldiers"
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 22, 2011
They've fought battles in faraway lands; they've saved lives under a hail of gunfire and shrapnel. And now, after months or years abroad, they've finally come home.
But that doesn't mean the war is over.
"Being out of your native country for a year or so at a time is very strange to a lot of us," said David Robbins, 30, who served in Iraq with the National Guard until last year and now works in North Adams for the state Department of Veterans' Services. "[Civilians] just don't know what it's like to actually leave and know that your life could possibly end."
For many veterans, coming home is the ultimate reward for time spent on the battlefield. But for others, the return to civilian life is more challenging than they ever thought it would be.
Transitioning from military rules and vigilance to a family and job can be stressful -- and that's before post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, drugs or financial troubles are added to the mix.
The stresses can become tragic.
* The U.S. Army said 2010 was the sixth consecutive year in which military suicides increased, and April alone last year had 16 suspected suicides.
* The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs -- which provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their dependents -- estimates that nearly 107,000 veterans are homeless every night, comprising nearly one-fifth of the nation's homeless population.
* A report released Thursday says U.S. troops in Afghanistan are suffering from the highest rates of mental health problems since 2005. Nearly one in five soldiers and Marines reported acute stress, depression or anxiety last year, compared with one in 10 soldiers in 2005 and one in eight Marines in 2006.
Yet as Memorial Day nears, the reasons for these stresses are little understood -- even by veterans who struggle to return to society. Many of these men and women have risked their lives fighting overseas, but now that they're home, can they find the peace they deserve?
'I'm still transitioning'
For Michael Stiehle Jones of Pittsfield, the only time he truly feels at ease is when he holds his breath and dives into the water.
"Transitioning?" he said with a laugh. "I'm still transitioning, and it's been 10 years."
A five-year Marine Corps veteran, Jones, 35, still thinks about what he brought back from his tour in Kosovo.
It's where he picked up his love of free-diving -- a process of diving without equipment.
It's also where he developed post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
"Your perception changes when you have a weapon pointed at your face," said Jones, now the seafood manager at the Big Y supermarket in Great Barrington. "You can't really explain that to anybody -- it's something that you wish you would never have to explain. You kind of feel withdrawn, because you worry about your reaction."
For Jones and others, PTSD is the result of the nervous system doing its job too well: It supercharges the fight-or-flight state, creating associations that might seem innocuous to a civilian, but can produce anxiety in a combat vet.
In 2009 alone, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs treated 143,530 vets for the condition.
"I couldn't turn the TV off in my head -- certain smells would trigger flashbacks of where I was, and I could not turn it off for a year or two," Jones said. "I won't go into a meat-cutting room because a kid got blown up around me. The smells of the blood and bones being cut, that bothers me."
'Avoidance gone awry'
Dr. Scott Cornelius, a clinical psychologist at the VA hospital in Leeds, said PTSD can manifest itself in situations ranging from standing in line at a grocery store to being unable to attend a Fourth of July parade because of the crowds and noise.
"PTSD is a sign of avoidance that's gone awry," Cornelius said, adding that this avoidance even results in a high no-show rate among his patients. "To avoid or reduce unwanted distress, paradoxically the veteran suffering from PTSD ends up stepping further and further away from life. They can literally paint themselves into their basement."
But not everyone agrees with the treatment options, which include individual or group counseling, coping exercises and medication. Jones criticized the counseling he received from Veterans Affairs, saying that bringing together veterans from different conflicts established little common ground.
But not everyone agrees with the treatment options, which include individual or group counseling, coping exercises and medication. Jones criticized the counseling he received from Veterans Affairs, saying that bringing together veterans from different conflicts established little common ground.
"We're all different ages, different levels of experience and different levels of PTSD," he said. "How are you supposed to help somebody when nobody in the group can relate?"
Cornelius, however, said that each conflict has increased the awareness of PTSD. By repeatedly exposing veterans to negative stimuli and constantly allowing them to go over the trauma, he said the VA has seen promising results.
"They're getting in contact with the very thoughts, emotions, feelings and reactions they're trying to avoid," Cornelius said. "It helps them process it. There's a body learning -- it takes that painful memory from something that's being relived to something that is just a painful memory."
Wayne Klug, a psychology professor at Berkshire Community College, has noted another phenomenon that can compound symptoms of PTSD -- cognitive dissonance.
In the case of returning soldiers, this often manifests as they struggle to reconcile their humanity after they have killed someone.
Having co-written a chapter with his findings in the recently released book "Treating Young Veterans: Promoting Resilience Through Practice and Advocacy," Klug said the best therapy for these internal conflicts is allowing veterans to articulate and expunge their feelings of guilt.
"It's not their fault ... but discussing this dissonance has been helpful in alleviating some of these symptoms," Klug said.
Jones, meanwhile, said he hopes to bring some relief to others who have PTSD. Training for certification to teach free-diving, he wants to share the therapeutic benefits of the activity with veterans to help with their physical or emotional rehabilitation.
Jones, meanwhile, said he hopes to bring some relief to others who have PTSD. Training for certification to teach free-diving, he wants to share the therapeutic benefits of the activity with veterans to help with their physical or emotional rehabilitation.
"You learn to retrain the mind, and that's what I did through diving," Jones said. "I learned to be able to release all that through the water. I'm trying to give [others] an outlet outside of the bottle and the pill."
Yet even as he holds a job and has a family that loves him, Jones said that living with the constant battle-readiness of military life isn't easy. He said that after five years, that hypervigilance almost was part of his DNA.
"It changes you. It hardens you," he said. "You tend to be a little colder and rigid and more judgmental. You learn to adapt to it to a degree, but this change is forever."
'A hole in the system'
You might think that Soldier On was built from bricks and mortar, from wood and paint. But it's also built out of stories. And sitting among nearly a dozen formerly homeless veterans, it's proof that not all war stories are easy to tell.
"When I got home, I woke up very easily," Dominick Sondrini, a Soldier On employee and a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, said recently at the nonprofit facility in Pittsfield. "For me, if someone took their dogs walking around, I woke up. Plows, motorcycles -- I'd definitely be up."
Jack Downing, Soldier On's president and CEO, said the current battles in the Middle East seem the most tense.
"We know if people are in combat they're under tremendous stress and they live in anxiety," he said. "Now, the majority of people who go overseas don't necessarily see direct combat -- but every piece of road they're going down is being swept for mines. You begin to question everything, so you're on edge 24 hours a day."
Couple this with reservists redeploying multiple times, and you have a recipe for turbulence upon their return home -- including drugs, addiction and jail.
During the Vietnam War, veterans typically became homeless within six to seven years after they came back, Downing said.
It's worse now.
"In this current conflict, they're drifting out into homelessness in about 18 months," he said. "That's frightening to us."
Like other veterans, the ones at Soldier On have struggled with problems ranging from alcoholism to drugs to post-traumatic stress disorder. The group's residents also struggled to readjust to a family that was used to getting along without them.
All of those challenges ended in estrangement; Downing said none of the approximately 280 veterans currently in his care has a significant other. Moreover, some vets have had difficulties getting back to civilian jobs that have only a fraction of the responsibility and command of their military posts.
"There's no set line of demarcation of who's who," said Tom Clark, a Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran, explaining his challenges of navigating the workplace. "You look in the military, you know who's who. You know their rank. Outside, you don't know what a person's position is."
Nearly everyone in the room nodded in agreement.
"I created my own ranked structure in my head," Sondrini said, adding that he's had to size up everyone from Soldier On. "To me it's uncomfortable when there isn't a set structure."
Sondrini said that while there are programs offered by groups such as Veterans Affairs, the connection with incoming soldiers can be difficult for those organizations to maintain.
"People find out about the VA, but they don't get connected," he said. "A National Guard Reservist doesn't want to talk to somebody from the VA when they walk off the plane. So they just get lost in the mix. There's a hole in the system."
Yet even with the success of Soldier On -- Downing said 10 to 12 veterans a month triumph over homelessness, drug addiction and other problems to become self-sufficient -- there's still a sadness in the halls.
"It's like a big brother; I wish I would have never gotten out of the service," said Bruce Powers, who served in the Navy through 1980. "The fighting doesn't stop when you get back -- just a different enemy."
To reach David Pepose: email@example.com or (413) 496-6240.
David Robbins served in Iraq until last year and now works in North Adams for the state Department of Veterans’ Services. ‘[Civilians] just don’t know what it’s like to actually leave and know that your life could possibly end,’ Robbins said. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Groups help heal vets' inner wounds"
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 22, 2011
After months of fighting on distant sands and desolate streets, veterans can feel like they're in a foreign country even when they come home.
But that doesn't mean they have to struggle alone.
Whether it's post-traumatic stress, brain injuries or simply readjusting to family life, the challenges of veterans getting back to civilian society are often misunderstood.
In the Berkshires and elsewhere, officials from the medical and military communities are helping veterans articulate and overcome these hurdles.
"We talk about collateral damage in the military -- well, they're the collateral damage," said Dr. Jennifer Michaels of the Brien Center, a mental health and substance-abuse center in Pittsfield. "[Mental health is] more abstract than diabetes or hypertension or heart disease, but accepting that makes it easier for people to heal."
Michaels said that between one in three and one in four veterans return home with symptoms consistent with a mental health condition.
The Brien Center helps treat these conditions with programs that include individual and group therapy, anger management, and medication for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or drug addiction.
Michaels said she often treats veterans not just for a psychological condition, but for substance-abuse issues that have arisen out of an attempt to cope with anxieties.
"Both illnesses must be addressed concurrently," Michaels said. "If I treat the depression but ignore the alcohol dependence, my patient won't get better."
Yet sometimes the problem is physical as well as psychological. That's where Suzanne Doswell comes in.
As the regional manager at the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts in its Pittsfield branch, Doswell has a unique perspective on traumatic brain injuries.
She has one herself.
"I hear the same stories of people having cognitive disabilities -- they can't understand why they can't remember things, or they get lost easily, or people get mad at them because they couldn't do a task they could do before," Doswell said. "It's all about understanding what your brain injury is doing and trying to compensate for this."
Doswell, who suffered her injury in a car accident in 1992, said it's possible to compensate and function with a traumatic brain injury. In the end, it's just a different kind of disability, she said.
Brain injuries are "such a shock [to veterans] -- it's so difficult and they feel so isolated, and sometimes they don't feel they can make the leap of faith to go out and talk to somebody," she said. "But there is a great community of people who would like to help them."
And the support doesn't have to come only from the medical community. While the stresses of combat can make for a jarring reunion with family, that reconnection can be rewarding, and even crucial, to a veteran's well-being.
Take Army National Guard Specialist Seth Tuper, who recently returned home from Afghanistan. A longtime resident of the town of Florida, he attributes his smooth transition home to the support of his wife and 2-year-old daughter.
"When something happens, we end up turning to each other and saying, ‘How does that make you feel?' " he said, adding that give-and-take is essential. "Communication is a big part of any relationship.''
Meanwhile, officials from both the medical and military establishments are working hard to ward off isolation in returning vets.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hosts Yellow Ribbon events in 30-day increments for three months after veterans come home. The events are designed to help vets understand their benefits and check in with the VA if they have any difficulties -- all in the company of fellow service members.
Other soldiers have found different ways to remain engaged. Tuper, for example, has turned to Facebook to help keep in touch with his comrades-in-arms.
"Connectors like Facebook can help you avoid [running into] problems," he said. "You see somebody who's had a hard time, and it's critical to maintain communication with one another."
Michaels said it's important for families to know they can contact groups such as the Brien Center or Veterans Affairs or even the suicide hotlines if they sense a change in their returning veteran.
"It's not just the veteran who is having a tough time, but people who love and care about the veteran are suffering too," Michaels said. "The more we can pull in a support network and help people, the easier it is to transition and let these people heal."
Brien Center Crisis Team: (413) 499-0412.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 (TALK).
Western Massachusetts Call Center for Veterans: (800) 893-1522.
Veterans' Services officers: Pittsfield -- Rosanne Frieri, (413) 499-9433; North Adams, Adams and Williamstown -- Dave Robbins, (413) 662-3040; Great Barrington and 11 other towns in South County -- Laurie Hils, (413) 528-1580.
Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts: Suzanne Doswell, (413) 443-0200.
Soldier On in Pittsfield: (413) 236-5644.
Note: Every city and town in Massachusetts has a Veterans' Services office. The complete list can be found at www.mass.gov/veterans.
"Soldier On's approach wins approval"
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 23, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- Soldier On was recognized at the national level last week when its local housing development for homeless veterans was one of 14 facilities across the country to win a prestigious Door Knocker Award.
"It's a huge boost nationally," said Soldier On's president and CEO, Jack Downing. "It shows we have a model that's really working, and the quality of what we're doing is very high."
Soldier On had already made a name for itself locally with the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community Village in Pittsfield. Now, the development has been recognized nationally.
Partially funded by the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Downing said that even he was surprised to see that the state submitted Soldier On as one of their top HOME-assisted projects, focusing on its reach to underserved populations.
Downing admitted that it took a little while for it to sink in.
"I didn't understand the prestigiousness of the award when we got it -- I said, ‘oh, gee, that's wonderful,' but didn't think much of it," he said with a laugh. That's when former HUD director Taylor Caswell set him straight. "He said, that's fabulous -- nobody gets [the award] their first time out."
Other Massachusetts-based winners of the awards included St. Polycarp Village Apartments in Somerville, and Worthington Commons in Boston and Springfield.
Downing, along with several members of his staff, flew to Washington, D.C. last week to accept the award, and conducted a workshop to demonstrate how to develop a project like Soldier On.
Praising his team of developers, Downing said he felt that Soldier On's affordability and sustainability initiatives such as photovoltaics helped secure the award for the organization, which in turn will mean great things for Soldier On.
"It raises the level of awareness of us as a developer and pushes us to the top of the pile when we apply for funding," Downing said. "This shows people that this is replicable in our neighrborhood."
"Another resource for vets, families"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, May 29, 2011
As a follow-up to your informative May 22 feature "When they come home," I would like to provide an additional resource for veterans and active duty military members as well as their families, friends and advocates.
The Berkshire County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI BC, is only one of 1,200 across the country able to provide confidential information and support to those who have served and their families. We recognize the unique stresses and the need for mental health information for everyone touched by military service. The Veterans Resources Center available at www. nami.org consolidates the most useful online resources whether you are looking for information on post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illnesses or how to obtain Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.
You may also contact our NAMI BC office at 333 East St. Room 417, Pittsfield, MA 01201, (413) 443 -1666, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.namibc.org
The writer is board president, NAMI Berkshire County.
"Open house for veterans at clinic"
The Berkshire Eagle, June 30, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- An open house for veterans and their families will be held July 7 at the Pittsfield Community Based Outpatient Clinic.
The open house, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the clinic on 73 Eagle St., will provide information about Veterans Health Administration benefits and additional veterans-specific information about VA services.
Veterans who are not currently enrolled for VA benefits are encouraged to bring their DD Form 214, "Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty," to the open house to assist counselors with determining individual eligibility for VA benefits. VA counselors will assist veterans to complete eligibility and enrollment applications.
The goal of the open house is to increase awareness about VA and other benefits and services available to veterans in Pittsfield and to assist with applying for these benefits, according to Roger Johnson, director of the Northampton Medical Center.
At the open house, representatives from the multitude of VA health care programs across Western Massachusetts will be available to answer questions. In addition to primary care and overall VA health benefits, programs at the Pittsfield open house will include services for combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; women's health; mental health services and treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder; assistance for veterans with diabetes; VA nutrition and exercise programs; support to family caregivers; and home-based primary care services.
Of particular interest will be specific information available for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Operating Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veterans can receive cost-free medical care for any condition related to their service in the Iraq/Afghanistan theater for five years after the date of their discharge or release.
Other open houses scheduled in western Massachusetts this summer are in Greenfield on Aug. 15 and in Springfield on Sept. 17.
For additional information about the open house, contact John Paradis at (413) 582-3050 or by email at email@example.com.
"Vietnam Veterans appreciate community's help"
The North Adams Transcript, Letter to the Editor, July 7, 2011
To the Editor:
On behalf of the members, staff and volunteers here at the Vietnam Veterans of America here on River Street in North Adams we wish to thank all the citizens who are picking up litter and keeping our city clean.
We are truly blessed to live in such a beautiful valley, where the air is clean, the mountains bring us close to nature and the combination of the blue sky and green hills will calm anyone's soul. There are between 50 and 100 citizens who are out on a daily basis cleaning up after the litter bugs around their neighborhoods. The natural beauty is a tremendous asset for our community.
We all have occasion to travel to other parts of the state and I believe that North Adams is cleaner than any other town in the state. We can be financially challenged but we can be clean. That beauty needs maintenance.
That beauty can be turned ugly very quickly with a Big Y shopping cart or garbage in the road. We ask that businesses please take the few seconds a day to clean up around your front door and close the lid on the dumpsters. Not only does trash blow out but it smells bad.
The Food Bank will only be open on the first two Sundays of each month for the time being. Most of our operating money is donated by the Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts, a charity run by veterans. Donations, as the recession continues, are down considerably. We receive no state or federal funding although we have often tried. The Massachusetts Legislature has woefully underfunded the Food Bank Program in the state.
As always, if a veteran is having trouble with the government, stop down and we will see if we can help.
North Adams, Massachusetts
July 5, 2011
The author is the president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 54.
"Help for vets dealing with PTSD"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 8, 2011
Anyone who grew up in the ‘50s knew of someone who returned from military service with "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." It may have been an uncle, a Dad, or a neighbor. At the time this condition was not very well understood. Today, it is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a person witnesses a traumatic event.
A traumatic event can take many forms -- a natural disaster, sexual abuse or a terrorist attack such as 9/11 -- but for veterans, PTSD is most often related to combat or military exposure. We know that PTSD can lead to other mental health problems such as depression, social withdrawal and substance abuse and that its effects can be long term.
As we celebrate Veterans Day Friday, remember that it is important to help those who need it and to educate our communities that more resources and treatments are available today. For more information, resources and tools for veterans and families, visit the Veterans Resource Center online at www.nami.org. Family members wishing to learn more about PTSD and other mental illnesses are encouraged to sign up for NAMI's Family 2 Family course through NAMI Berkshire County at 1-413-443-1666 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The writer is board president. NAMI Berkshire County is an affiliate of the National Alliance On Mental Illness which is the nation's largest nonprofit, grassroots mental health support, education and advocacy organization. It works to raise awareness around and build support for those with mental illnesses and their families.
May 16, 2012
Jack Downing, who is NOT a Veteran, gives homeless Veterans' money to GE Lobbyist Peter Larkin. Please go to the following web-page: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/LobbyistPublicSearch/. Enter Larkin for "enter name" and select 2011 for the year. It states that "United Veterans of America" or "Soldier On", which Jack Downing is CEO, paid Peter Larkin $40,750 in 2011. In 2010, Jack Downing paid Peter Larkin $60,000. In 2009, Jack Downing paid Peter Larkin $27,100. In 2008, Jack Downing paid Peter Larkin $22,500.
Jack Downing never served in the military. Jack Downing is NOT a Veteran. Yet, Jack Downing is CEO of a non-profit Veterans organization that receives taxpayer dollars to help homeless Veterans, which is diverts to his political friend and GE lobbyist Peter Larkin. From 2008 - 2011, Jack Downing took $150,350 from homeless Veterans and gave it to GE lobbyist Peter Larkin. Jack Downing is misusing public funds to fight homelessness among Veterans for his own political ends. Jack Downing has billion-aire U.S. Senator John Kerry come to Pittsfield to talk to homeless Veterans. He pays a GE lobbyist named Peter Larkin over 6-figures instead of using the money for homeless Veterans.
I do not believe Jack Downing cares about Veterans. Jack Downing is NOT a Veteran. Jack Downing uses public dollars for Veterans to play politics and pay his GE lobbyist friend Peter Larkin.
- Jonathan Melle
"Warren learns from veterans during Pittsfield visit"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 28, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren took a one-day tour of Central and Southern Berkshire on Sunday, stopping in Lenox, Stockbridge and Pittsfield.
In Pittsfield, Warren visited the Soldier On facility on West Housatonic Street. Unlike many politicians, Warren spent very little time speaking, and a lot of time listening.
"I have three brothers who have served their country," said Warren at one point, talking to Soldier On President and CEO John F. Downing. "This is something close to me.."
Soldier On is an independent, nonprofit organization established to raise and provide funding to end veteran homelessness. It also provides counseling, health care, job training and transitional housing for veterans.
The facility's entire budget is about $7 million and serves more than 300 veterans, said Downing. This is in stark contrast to other federally funded facilities with budgets 10 and 15 times that of Soldier On, who serve about half the number of vets.
"This could be a national model," said State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Soldier On. "John does an amazing job here."
Pignatelli and fellow State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier accompanied Warren on her Pittsfield stopover.
Warren was clearly impressed. She and Downing talked about ways to expand the program statewide and even nationally.
Warren met with several veterans who told her their stories.
"What do you think is the main priority for veterans coming home?" she asked one group.
"Jobs," replied one vet. "There's been a paradigm shift in that there are so many members of the National Guard deployed overseas."
Downing said that often, when vets return, their jobs are not held.
"We have veterans sleeping in National Guard depots," he said.
Downing was critical of Veteran's Administration medical facilities, noting that, in trying to help veterans, doctors often overprescribed medication for them, some to extreme degrees.
"These are veterans," he said. "Everyone wants to help them."
But, said Downing, there are veterans that check into Soldier On with more than one and often many open prescriptions for painkillers. He cited the case of one veteran for whom a doctor had prescribed a daily dose 270 mg of Oxycontin, as well as Valium.
"These men were willing to die for us," said Downing. "We need to tell them, ‘We will bring you back to the center of your lives as best we can.' "
"If I can be helpful," said Warren to Downing, "I will."
"Website to help veterans connect"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 17, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- State and local officials Thursday introduced a new website aimed at making it easier for veterans to connect with benefits and service programs offered in Massachusetts.
MassVetsAdvisor.org can quickly tell veterans of all stripes and ages which of the 320 benefit initiatives offered in Massachusetts they qualify for, and likewise, it can connect them with any of the 95 veteran's service programs offered in the state, according to its creators.
"[Massachusetts] has the best benefits system in the country ... but it's created so many programs that when veterans try to access that system, it's like putting a fire hose in their mouth and turning it on," Coleman Nee, the state Secretary of Veterans' Services, said to a room full of veterans at Soldier On's Pittsfield campus.
The site was developed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute in collaboration with the state Department of Veterans Services.
In addition to helping veterans, the goal of the website is to demonstrate the value of broadband internet connectivity to populations that are currently underserved, according to the institute, whose mission in part is to increase adoption of broadband use.
"What this site does is create relevance ... they now have a reason to go online," said Jason Whittet, the institute's deputy director.
Kyle Toto, a recent veteran of the war in Afghanistan, helped design the website. He described coming back to the U.S. and feeling lost in the jumbled system of benefits and programs.
"Everyone's out there to help us," he said. "It's a sea of goodwill, but it's confusing. ... I knew [benefits] were out there, but I didn't know where to look for them."
John F. Downing, the CEO and president of Soldier On, said MassVetsAdvisor.org would directly benefit the veterans his organization serves and others by preventing people from "falling through the service gaps."
"Our veterans in this building are going to be able to go online and pop from portal to portal and cloud to cloud to get all the information they need," he said.
The event doubled as a campaign stop for U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat currently running for re-election in the new 1st Massachusetts District, which includes Berkshire County.
Jack Downing delivered a strong endorsement of Neal, who touted his support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus bill has provided $45.5 million in funding to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, according to the state auditor's office.
Neal said the state's new veterans' portal, made possible by that stimulus funding, will make sure struggling veterans have "the opportunity to bounce back."
"Gordon Mansfield, advocate for veterans, dies at 71"
By John Sakata, Berkshire Eagle, February 5, 2013
PITTSFIELD -- Distinguished veteran and veterans advocate Gordon Mansfield, the namesake of Pittsfield's Soldier On facility for homeless veterans, died on Jan. 29 due to aortic disease at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington D.C. He was 71.
A Pittsfield native, Mansfield left the Berkshires when he was 14 after his father got a job in New Jersey, according to a friend. In the years to come, he would earn his law degree and serve two tours in Vietnam, where he was wounded near the spinal cord, an injury that put him a wheel chair for the next 45 years. Despite the physical challenge, he would go on to become the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from 2004 to 2008.
He wouldn't forget his hometown during his ascent through Washington, D.C. He would become an invaluable liaison for veteran support nonprofit Soldier On, said Soldier On President and CEO John Downing.
Downing said Soldier On probably wouldn't be providing housing for veterans had it not been for Mansfield's inspiring words: that the veterans who enlist in the military are all openly stating that they would be willing to die on his behalf.
"It changed my whole understanding about what I needed to do help veterans," Downing said.
Downing, who first met Mansfield in 2003 and remained friends until he died, said that Mansfield was an invaluable liaison between the government and Soldier On, even after he retired.
Downing said that all Soldier On facilities are scheduled to bear Mansfield's name. He also said the success of the organization was largely attributable to Mansfield.
"It was really based on me standing on his shoulder and him pushing us up there. There was no limit to what he would do for veterans," said Downing, who said Mansfield provided "access to a whole level of administrative government."
No matter how far he'd come in life, Gordon Mansfield's second wife, Linda, said the accolades didn't matter: her husband always attributed the success to others, including to herself.
Friends say that one of Mansfield's proudest achievement was marrying Linda.
"He exemplified everything that is great in this country," Mrs. Mansfield said. "The values of hard work and doing the right thing and thanking God every day for your blessings. He was a religious man."
Over the course of his career, Mansfield held a senior poition at the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1989 to 1993 and then served as the executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America from 1993 to 2000. Before becoming deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, he was assistant secretary of congressional and legislative affairs for the department.
During his military career, Mansfield was recognized with combat decorations a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, along with others. He was an early advocate for the disabled assisting with the legislation that became the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to his wife.
Mrs. Mansfield said contributions on behalf of her husband should be made to the veteran support groups Fisher House, Wounded Warrior Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, or Soldier On.
"Marine veteran Passetto fought to aid veterans"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle, May 14, 2013
PITTSFIELD -- It will have been a month ago this Thursday since 28-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Edward S. Passetto stood before the flagpole at Berkshire Community College to speak about the importance of the American flag and raise it in awareness of Student Veterans Week at the college.
He spent seven years in the Marines, joining in 2004. He served as a Harrier jet mechanic and was deployed overseas for a tour in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2011, he became a veteran and was proud of it, saying so at public veterans events, on social media pages, and in the Letters to the Editor section of The Berkshire Eagle.
On Saturday morning, John Harding, also a Marine Corps veteran, said Passetto was supposed to join a group from the Vietnam Veterans of America James E. Callahan Chapter 65 to plant flags by veterans' tombstones in area cemeteries in advent of Memorial Day.
Passetto never showed. His body was found around 10 a.m. on the Monument Mountain Reservation in Great Barrington, the victim of an apparent suicide.
"We're all very, very shocked," said Harding, who serves on the Chapter 65 board and is a past sergeant of arms for the Marine Corps League and junior vice commander for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
"I worked with him personally," Harding told The Eagle on Monday. "He was very active in the Pittsfield Marine Corps League Detachment 137. We were going to meet this week on other veterans coming home."
During the years of his service, the time after he left active duty and in the wake of his death, Passetto indicated his struggles relating to his association with the military, from mental-health issues to his long-term fight to claim disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Unfortunately, he's the victim of what he wanted to help," Harding said of Passetto and the veteran's death.
Harding said local members of the Marine Corps will be present at funeral services, which haven't been announced, to honor Passetto. Harding also said the struggles of returning veterans will be part of the Memorial Day addresses he will deliver this month in Pittsfield.
On Sunday, the CBS television show "60 Minutes" aired a segment called "Succeeding As Civilians," detailing the challenges veterans have when trying to re-integrate into civilian life.
The segment stated there are 3 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In additions to facing unemployment, nearly half have a disability because of their service.
CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported, "Most tragically, more soldiers killed themselves last year than died at the hands of the enemy."
"There are two parts of these things that are always disturbing," said Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, a private organization that works to support veterans and prevent veteran homelessness and operates headquarters in Pittsfield and Leeds.
"For all of us who work in this field, it makes us aware that the system is far from perfect," Downing said. "There are cracks in the foundation and people slip through them. We're usually unaware of them until there's a tragedy, and that's the sad part of it."
"Many young people come back from conflict and disguise their pain and their needs," he said.
When military personnel retire, are discharged or separated from service, they are issued a document generally referred to as a "DD 214," or a certificate of release or discharge from active duty. Then they are offered the opportunity to take a TAP (Transition Assistance Program) class, a series of workshops meant to help veterans learn how to prepare for a post-military career.
The 20-year-old program was criticized of being so outdated and irrelevant that it is undergoing an overhaul and being renamed as Transition Goals Plans Success, or Transition GPS.
After that, veterans typically are on their own.
"I had to do everything myself," Passetto said at the April 16 ceremony at BCC.
Passetto appeared to have been a self-advocate. In a March 2011 interview with The Eagle, he said he began looking for a summer job but "couldn't find the kind of work that could pay the bills."
In May 2011, he said he began filing his disabilities claims.
Downing calls this "a horrible, horrible mess of data and paper."
"When we send our kids off to college and other places, they're coming back better. We're not expecting them to come back worse, which is happening with this war we're in," Downing said.
He said returning military personnel -- at one time fighters, providers and protectors -- face the stigma of asking for help socially, emotionally and financially, and being offered only minimum-wage jobs.
"There are a lot coming back and going on unemployment," Downing said. "You end up with young men and women who can't find a job while waiting for benefits and think there's a system that doesn't care."
Not getting very far with finding a job or receiving his benefits, Passetto decided to take advantage of his Montgomery GI Bill benefit and enrolled in Berkshire Community College to study manufacturing in the fall of 2011.
Passetto died still waiting for help, still not getting compensation for the damage he incurred as a Marine.
Downing said he met with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, VA members and other state officials to specifically talk about veterans benefits and the time period for claims in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Downing said that in Vermont and New Hampshire, it takes approximately 15 days for a claim to officially be processed and filed into the VA system. In Massachusetts, the process takes place within 30 days, he said.
‘System is broken'
The problem is, according to Downing, there still are hundreds of thousands of claims that have been in the system for more than a year, getting further backlogged as troops return and file new claims.
"The system is broken, and it falls on all of us," Downing said. "We need to be accountable for what we didn't do for this young man if we had been more effective at our jobs."
Passetto was a 2004 graduate of Lee Middle and High School, where he was a member of Lee High's Alpine ski team, coached by his late father, Michael Passetto.
Upon graduation, Passetto went right into the Marines. He was deployed overseas twice -- once each to Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the time of his death, he was enrolled as a student at BCC.
"We are saddened by the news that Ed Passetto, a BCC student and friend, has passed away," the college said on its Facebook page on Sunday. "Our hearts go out to his family and friends. This is a terrible loss to all of us."
Counseling and grief support services were offered Monday to the BCC community, and will continue to be offered this week. The college flew its flags at half-staff Monday in Passetto's honor.
The Eagle's Dick Lindsay contributed to this report.
Veterans across the country are having hard times readjusting to civilian life. Read their stories and learn about ways to help here:
Crisis hotlines and websites: If you or someone you know is in crisis, there are resources available right now to help:
Local: The Brien Center Crisis Hotline (24/7): (800) 252-0227
National: 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)
For hard of hearing/deaf, veterans: 800-799-4889
Chat online: www.crisischat.org
More information: suicidehotlines.com; suicidepreventionlifeline.org
What to watch for: If someone you know is in crisis, there are signs to look out for. The following information has been supplied by suicidepreventionlifeline.org, webmd.com, and Brenda Carpenter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Berkshire County:
Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
Sleeping too little or too much.
Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
Displaying extreme mood swings.
Always talking or thinking about death.
Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that gets worse
Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
Losing interest in things one used to care about
Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out."
Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
"Soldier On set to close overflow Pittsfield shelter"
By Nathan Mayberg, Berkshire Eagle, 4/17/2014
PITTSFIELD -- Soldier On's overflow emergency housing shelter will be closed for the winter after Sunday.
Jack Downing, CEO of the veterans organization, said the shelter was only funded for the winter months through a grant by Berkshire Health Systems. It is designed to handle overflow from the Barton's Crossing shelter on North Street.
That shelter, which is run by Servicenet, doesn't accept those who may be under the influence of alcohol.
In November, Downing said there was a crisis of people who couldn't get into Barton's Crossing, which led his organization to open up a new shelter to handle the overflow and those turned away. "We should never be in the situation we were in last November."
Soldier On provided food, clothing, showers and beds at its facility on West Housatonic Street; Berkshire Medical Center stepped up with funding for social workers from Servicenet to work at the shelter.
John Lawson, vice president of operations for Soldier On, said the shelter also took in people who were banned from Barton's Crossing for behavioral issues.
He said as of Tuesday, there were six people staying at the shelter who will need to find an alternative home.
Brad Gordon, executive director and attorney for the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority, which works to prevent homelessness, said he is hopeful state funding will come through to expand the number of beds at Barton's Crossing and help provide more beds at Soldier On in the winter.
There are presently 16 beds at Barton's Crossing. Gordon said he would also like to make funds available to place the homeless in hotels and motels in the southern and northern part of Berkshire County.
Representatives of Barton's Crossing or Servicenet could not be reached for comment.
Downing said he expects to reopen this winter if state funding comes through. In the meantime, he said, he didn't know what would happen to people who relied on Soldier On for shelter. Gordon said he was also unsure where they would turn.
Some may sleep in tents, he said. In the past, they would "go into the police station and sleep in doorways," he said.
Downing said that some of those who stayed at the shelter this winter have found subsidized housing.
He said 65 to 70 percent of people who use the shelter have a mental health issue. Many have problems with alcoholism.
While the shelter is meant to be used overnight, the shelter allowed the homeless to stay throughout the day if the temperature outside was below 20 degrees.
"It was a bad year," Lawson said. "It was cold."
August 22, 2014
Re: Jack Downing is a political hack
I wish I wasn’t born and did not grow up and spend a majority of my life in Pittsfield. I know all about Pittsfield politics because I come from a political family. Pittsfield politics makes me so mad inside. When I read the Berkshire Eagle online and Dan Valenti’s blog on Pittsfield politics, it is all so predictable. And it all SUCKS! It is the same group of insider political hacks pulling the same crap every year. In the case of Rosanne Frieri, she is not a Good Old Boy like her counterpart, non-Veteran Jack Downing, whose brother was the District Attorney and whose nephew is the State Senator with a huge ego and even bigger ambitions. Jack Downing pulls down a 6 figure salary running a not-for-profit homeless shelter for Veterans in Northampton and Pittsfield. He comes from a long line of political hacks in Pittsfield politics. It is no secret that Jack Downing does not care for Rosanne Frieri. Dan Bianchi is beholden to the Good Old Boy network — even though he campaigned against them in 2011 — and he is the hatchet man who will fire Rosanne Frieri as Pittsfield’s Veterans’ Director. It so predictable to watch all of this happen. As a side note, I thought it was strange when Jack Downing brought over billionaire John Kerry to talk to the homeless Veterans at his Pittsfield shelter. John Kerry is a made man who comes from centuries of the political establishment. John Kerry was the wealthiest member of U.S. Congress before becoming Secretary of State for U.S. President Barack Obama. John Kerry and George W. Bush represented Yales’ Skull and Bones in the 2004 presidential election. The fix was in for Bush in the disputed 2000 presidential election where Pat Buchanan received more votes that Al Gore in the disputed farce that was the Florida election. The fix was in for Bush in the 2004 presidential election when John Kerry took a dive on Iraq and for his fellow Skull and Bones chum Bush. I am a disabled Veteran, and if John Kerry talked to me, I would tell him it must be nice to be a billionaire political elite. If Jack Downing talked to me, I would tell him to stop being a political hack under the false pretense of helping homeless Veterans. Jack Downing pays GE lobbyist Peter Larkin tens of thousands of dollars per year out of his not-for-profit budget for homeless Veterans. I find that so wrong! Jack Downing doesn’t give a crap about Veterans. He just likes chumming with billionaire John Kerry, paying his crony Peter Larkin big bucks in lobbyist fees, and doing the bidding the Good Old Boy network in Pittsfield politics!
- Jonathan Melle
"Soldier On gets $3 million federal grant"
By Phil Demers, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/03/2014
PITTSFIELD -- Soldier On has been selected to receive a $3 million federal grant that will help put more "feet on the street" to identify and assist local veterans in need, the nonprofit organization has announced.
And CEO and President John F. Downing said the funds may signal a national shift in how services are provided to veterans in the wake of front-page scandals concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs' shortcomings.
Because many veterans don't own cars or even possess driver's licenses -- 70 percent locally -- the current reliance on VA hospitals that sometimes can be located dozens of miles away just doesn't cut it, Downing said.
Investments like this in organizations that get out into communities and identify veterans in need, like Soldier On, could save crucial time, millions of dollars and, most importantly, lives, according to Downing.
"Putting people on the street is so much more effective for veterans and cost-effective for taxpayers," Downing said.
Soldier On, which operates permanent and temporary housing shelters for veterans in the city, in Leeds and all over New York, aims to assist 750 more veterans all over Berkshire County using the $3 million, which will be released $1 million per year over three years. It houses approximately 225 veterans in Pittsfield and Leeds and reaches approximately 3,500 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families in five states.
Maggie Porter, the organization's director of communications, said the funds will allow them to hire more employees -- called peer and peace mentors -- who can serve veterans in need in any number of ways, from providing a ride somewhere to getting a roof over someone's head.
"We really want to reach veterans before homelessness becomes an issue, and more people is the best way to do it," Porter said.
Ninety percent of local Vietnam veterans earn an average 30 percent or lower of the area's median income. Veterans suffer increased likelihood of financial strife, substance abuse and mental health issues.
The grant, a Supportive Services for Veteran Families grant, is unique because the VA concurrently identified Pittsfield as a "priority area," opening it up to increased funding.
This is the first year that such identifications were made by the VA.
Downing said it opens the door for a more decentralized approach, which would also include investments in local health systems so veterans don't have to travel so far to receive services.
As an example, he envisions a future credit card system that would allow veterans to receive services at local hospitals like Berkshire Medical Center rather than at the VA in Northampton.
"The VA cannot go on underserving veterans and building up waiting lists," Downing said. "And if you make services more convenient for people, they are going to utilize them."
He added, "If veterans who should be going to the VA don't or can't go to the VA, they use Medicare or Medicaid, and that drives up everyone's taxes," Downing said. "If VA dollars were dumped into [Berkshire Health Systems] instead the taxpayer wouldn't get hit double like they are now."
"Berkshire County homeless aid funding expands: Emergency shelter plan to be re-instituted, expanded to North, South County; more support for those about to lose homes"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, October 26, 2014
PITTSFIELD - A more coordinated and better funded response to homelessness has Berkshire County in a much better position to offer a wider range of assistance this winter, local officials believe.
An emergency shelter plan that came together in Pittsfield a year ago only after a donation from Berkshire Health Systems will be re-instituted in November. It also will expand to Northern and Southern Berkshire through a state funding earmark obtained by the county's legislative delegation.
Additional efforts by Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, Soldier On and other organizations will support residents at risk of being evicted or losing a home from becoming homeless, likely reducing the number seeking emergency shelter.
"We have all worked hard and had collaboration, and I think we have done something pretty positive, for this winter anyway," said Jay Sacchetti, who oversees shelter and housing programs for ServiceNet Inc.
The organization operates Barton's Crossing, a transitional shelter on North Street in Pittsfield, and will once again provide 10 emergency or short-term beds beginning in November.
Together with Soldier On, which will create space for another 10 or more emergency shelter beds at its West Housatonic Street facility, the two organizations met the city's need last winter, Sacchetti said. From November to April 2014, the average number seeking emergency shelter was about 18, he said, with 105 in total staying short-term at those facilities.
About 15 to 20 individuals were seen more frequently, he said.
The coordinated effort was cobbled together in early December, after it was learned that fall that the Salvation Army building on West Street could not host an emergency shelter as it had over the previous winter.
Berkshire Health Systems eventually donated $45,000 toward the costs of establishing that approach.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said having shelter funding from the state in place before cold weather sets in is a welcome development.
"I am pleased that we received additional funds to help us meet the needs of those seeking shelter and other crucial services during the winter months," he said.
Jack Downing, CEO and president at Soldier On, said he's optimistic the demand for emergency shelter will be met this winter, and could decline because funding also is available for programs aimed at keeping tenants in their homes.
His organization, which operates throughout Western Massachusetts, has received a $400,000 grant to assist veterans who are in danger of losing their homes or being evicted, and Downing said much of that effort will be focused on Berkshire County.
There could be less of a need for emergency sheltering, Downing said, "because we are stabilizing more veterans" in their current homes.
Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority is the agency that received the $150,000 state funding earmark obtained by the legislative delegation, Executive Director Brad Gordon said. About $125,000 of that amount will be funneled to organizations providing emergency shelter, he said, while the housing authority will have more funding for its own programs to assist those at risk of losing their homes.
Those programs provide financial literacy education, mediation services for tenants in danger of being evicted, and similar services, Gordon said, adding that there is a significant need in the Berkshires. While it appears there is sufficient funding for this winter, he said, the need for housing stabilization efforts, substance abuse treatment and affordable housing options is increasing.
"There is a growing need," he said, "and we have to try to monitor it and make sure to keep ahead of it."
In North County, Family Life Support Center, which operates the transitional shelter Louison House in Adams, and Construct Inc., which operates a transitional shelter in Great Barrington, will have funding this year thorough the state earmark for short-term beds at local motels.
"We have never had funding for emergency shelter in North County," said Lindsay Errichetto, executive director of the 22-bed Louison House on Old Columbia Street, which accepts only those transitioning toward permanent housing. "We are very excited about this."
Errichetto said that, based on the inquiries for emergency shelter the organization typically receives during cold weather, she could envision the need to shelter 25 to 50 people this winter on a temporary basis.
Cara Davis, executive director at Construct Inc., which operates a transitional shelter on Mahaiwe Street in Great Barrington, said of the emergency shelter funding, "This is kind of an experimental year. We have never had this before."
State funding is expected to allow sheltering of individuals in motel rooms.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said Berkshire lawmakers began talking to state Department of Housing and Community Development last winter, but at first no existing state program seemed to fit the county's growing need. However, $150,000 was eventually secured for the Berkshires in the annual budget.
Long term, he said, the goal will be to secure annual grant funding to support a coordinated effort in the county.
After the need became apparent last year, the entire Berkshire delegation worked to gain funding, said Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said, "I think if this is a successful program, we can go back for support to continue it."
"Berkshire County should be proud," said Downing of Soldier On. "We have done some good work with a number of groups involved."
He praised the legislators for securing state funding and BHS because it "put up the money and then hosted meetings that lead to solutions."
In addition to providing 10 or more emergency shelter beds, Soldier On will provide van transportation for homeless people to Barton's Crossing or to the Soldier On facility, as well as to the hospital if there are intoxication or addiction issues that require attention by medical personnel.
Veterans who volunteer at Soldier On, some of whom have "been there themselves," assist the homeless on a volunteer basis, Downing added, and they are staff trained to assist someone with substance or mental health issues.
He also praised Police Chief Michael Wynn and city police for their enlightened approach to dealing with homeless individuals.
"They are very good at this," Downing said. "These men are comfortable around the police," he said.
Justine Dodds, the city's housing specialist, said that, unlike last year, having funding in advance "has been very helpful, knowing that ahead of time that we have it."
"Soldier On President Jack Downing urges Congress to help deal with homeless veterans"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, December 12, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The head of Western Massachusetts-based Soldier On wants the federal government to rethink its strategy for helping homeless veterans across the country.
President and CEO John "Jack" Downing on Thursday called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to deal with veterans' medical and social issues as one.
Speaking before a congressional panel on Capitol Hill, Downing cited the Soldier On facility in Pittsfield, which serves 39 male veterans, as a model for improved housing and care for down-on-their-luck former servicemen, as well as women. The nonprofit has eight similar full-service veterans homes planned throughout the East Coast.
"Transportation and case management, along with medical and mental health services are delivered to each veteran where he or she lives so that appointments are met and the veteran receives the support necessary to ensure success and dignity," he said. "The reality is that our goal has been to bring each homeless veteran back to the center of their life."
Downing was one of nine people representing federal or nonprofit veterans assistance agencies who testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. The committee is soliciting input on how to eradicate homelessness among millions of veterans, looking to Soldier On and others who are thinking outside the box with solutions.
The VA's goal calls for every veteran off the street by the end of 2105. Several veteran-related websites report one in seven homeless persons in America have served in the military.
The VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans in Philadelphia was another example cited as examples of how veterans services are delivered where they live, according the committee's website.
Headquartered in Leeds, Soldier On currently serves 3,815 veterans in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, along with Massachusetts – a figure expected to grow to 5,315 next year, according to Downing.
Solider On operates on a $24 million budget, nearly $17.4 million funded through federal and state revenue sources. The private agency is the largest provider of support services to veterans in the United States and one of the leaders in helping women veterans.
During questioning by committee members, Downing stunned some of the members about the abuse many female veterans.
"When I told them that 100 percent of the women we treat suffered military sexual trauma, some were shocked," Downing said in a phone interview with The Eagle after the hearing. "Several female committee members came up to me afterward saying they want to come out to [Leeds] and visit our women's programs."
Downing and his fellow speakers said the problem of homeless veterans will persist, unless the VA develops a community — instead of medical — model of addressing all their needs.
"The lack of safe, affordable housing with services on-site has allowed veterans in poverty and those suffering from untreated and under-treated mental health and addiction disorders to be left forgotten and alone in their prolonged states of homelessness," Downing said in his prepared remarks.
"Eliminating homelessness requires society to look at the causes of poverty, which are rooted in a capitalist society and its impact on the standard of living and lack of educational/vocational training opportunities," he added.
For more information on Soldier On, visit www.wesoldieron.org.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. email@example.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter
"Veterans & Families Transportation Call Center dedicated at Pittsfield Intermodal Center"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, March 8, 2015
PITTSFIELD — About half of the country's military veterans currently miss appointments due to transportation issues, according to Duane Gill of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
It's a safe bet that percentage will be lowered in Berkshire County.
On Friday, local, state and federal officials dedicated the Veterans & Families Transportation Call Center at the Intermodal Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue.
A collaboration between Soldier On and the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority, the facility will coordinate transportation services for military veterans and their families to Pittsfield's VA clinic, and VA facilities in Leeds and Albany, N.Y.
It will also connect local vets to the VA shuttle in Leeds that provides transportation to outlying veterans facilities.
During the opening ceremonies, officials said the Pittsfield call center will serve as a "regional and national model" for similar facilities.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal believes the Pittsfield facility is the first "demonstration model" of its kind in the country.
"Soldier On has built a great brand," the Springfield Democrat said, referring to the private nonprofit organization that operates a permanent housing cooperative in Pittsfield for previously homeless vets. "When you build a good brand, that gets you instant access."
The call center was financed through a $2 million capital grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration's Veterans Transportation and Learning Initiative that the BRTA received in 2012.
Sean Sullivan of the FTA's Region 1 office, said representatives of his agency were "highly impressed" when they visited Pittsfield last April.
Based at the Intermodal Center, the call-center uses components of the BRTA's Intelligent Transportation Center. It will be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and be manned by four formerly homeless veterans from Soldier On.
Veterans and their family members can submit transportation requests by calling toll free 855-483-8743 or visiting www.veteranfamilyrides.com.
The "one call, one click" center's intent is to improve the coordination of transportation for Berkshire veterans and their families for medical, work, education and shopping trips, said BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati.
"We're very proud to be a part of this," Malnati said.
The new facility will allow the community "to support those who have borne the burden," said Neal, referring to a comment made by President Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address that was given a month before the end of the Civil War.
"It is our obligation, as Mr. Lincoln noted, to come to the aid of those that have borne the burden," Neal said. "And that's what's significant about this today."
"The ease in which we move from one place to another is a very important part of the government's responsibility," Neal said.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said he knows two Korean War veterans who can no longer drive, which has made getting to Leeds for them "a real problem." He thanked the BRTA and Soldier On for addressing these kinds of problems.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, spoke on behalf of the Berkshire state legislative delegation. Everett Handford, representing U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, read a citation from the senator.
Other speakers included Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services Secretary Francisco Urena, and Soldier On President Gary Shepard.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. firstname.lastname@example.org @tonydobrow on Twitter.
Photo Gallery | Veterans and Families Call Center
Kevin Musial and Lou Crivellaro work at the new Veterans and Families transportation Center in Pittsfield, a cooperative effort between Soldier On and BRTA. Friday March 6, 2015. Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle.
BRTA and Soldier On celebrate the opening of the Veterans and Families Transportation Center at the Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield, Friday March 6, 2015. Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle.
BRTA and Soldier On celebrate the opening of the Veterans and Families Transportation Center at the Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield, Friday March 6, 2015. In this photograph, Congressman Richard Neal greets Senator Ben Downing. Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle.
"Assuring veterans get the help they've earned"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, March 8, 2015
It has become obvious in recent years that the U.S. has not done as well as it should by its veterans. Berkshire County may have come upon a way to change that in at least one important aspect.
In ceremonies Friday, the Veterans & Families Transportation Call Center was unveiled at the Intermodal Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue in Pittsfield. A collaboration between Soldier On and the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority, the program will help veterans and their families get to Pittsfield's VA clinic as well as facilities for veterans in Leeds outside of Northampton and in Albany. (Berkshire Eagle, March 7).
Local, state and national veterans officials were in attendance Friday at the dedication ceremonies. Duane Gill of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that about half of the country's military veterans miss appointments because of transportation problems, a staggering and inexcusable number.
Not all veterans live in or near major cities were public transportation is readily available. For veterans in Berkshire County, receiving specialized treatment in Leeds, an hour trip east on Route 9, or in Albany, an hour trip west on Route 20, can pose a daunting challenge. The new call center will help coordinate such trips and provide transportation to out-of-the-way VA facilities.
U.S. Representative Richard Neal, a First District Democrat, said Friday that he believes the new center could be a "demonstration model" for the rest of the nation. Ideally the center, financed by federal grants and to be manned by homeless veterans from Soldier On, will become just that in the months ahead.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a whole new group of veterans. In both instances, the nation embarked on military adventures without considering long-term ramifications, which includes producing plans and financing for those plans to address the inevitable return of veterans suffering from physical and psychological trauma.
"It is our obligation, as Mr. Lincoln noted, to come to the aid of those that have borne the burden," said Mr. Neal, quoting from Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address delivered shortly after the end of the Civil War. The center (which can be reached at 855-483-8743 or www.veteranfamilyrides.com) will meet part of that obligation.
“Berkshire veterans to benefit from $400K in federal housing vouchers”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, April 21, 2015
Local housing-insecure veterans will benefit by almost $400,000 in federal funds released to veterans agencies to defray rent costs and pay for additional social services.
Massachusetts received a total $1.7 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, while more than $65 million was distributed around the country in connection with an initiative to end veteran homelessness.
Berkshire County's $400,000 piece of the pie will cover the cost of 47 housing vouchers, to go toward agencies like Soldier On, which then helps negotiate leases with landlords and provide the veterans other social services intended to address the underlying cause of the homelessness — frequently involving mental health issues.
Veterans benefiting from vouchers pay 30 to 40 percent of the monthly rent price. The vouchers are worth roughly $1,200 per month, according to HUD.
"With all the vouchers HUD is sending our way, no local veteran is going to go homeless," Amy Gaskill, spokesperson for the Central and Western Massachusetts Office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said. Gaskill's office, located in Leeds, is administering the funds.
HUD Secretary Julián Castro, while speaking in Seattle on Monday, announced that the department would be releasing the funds.
"Too many Americans who have answered the call of duty struggle, often, to readjust to life after military service," Castro said. "No veteran should be relegated to the shadows of our society because they're going through hard times."
The $65 million is expected to help around 9,000 veterans, or one fifth of the total population of homeless veterans in the U.S.
According to the most recent count in 2014, 225 veterans were homeless in Massachusetts, out a state homeless population of 21,237.
In 2013, former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announced a plan to end veteran homelessness in Massachusetts by the close of 2015.
At that time, a head count reflected the magnitude of the problem: 1,181 homeless veterans were then living in the state. Since then, the figure has since then fallen by almost 80 percent.
Murray's plan called for the construction of additional permanent housing units and an increase in the distribution of housing vouchers like those announced this week.
In terms of the nationwide count, HUD in 2013 reported a total of 57,849 homeless veterans across the U.S.
While Massachusetts has shown admirable progress in housing its homeless veterans, the state's homeless population grew alarmingly by 28 percent since 2010 — when the figure was 16,646 — to 21,237.
"The biggest takeaway here is that ending veterans homelessness is really the number one priority of the agency," Elizabeth Montaquila, a Massachusetts-based HUD spokesperson, said. "We are committed to ending this problem, and there are plenty of great agencies out there who've taken this up as a common goal. The effort is producing results."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. email@example.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.
“Veterans' program offers financial help”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 20, 2015
To the editor:
Title 115 is a little known service for veterans living below the poverty level. Among the criteria: One in household, $1,940 monthly; two in household, $2,640 monthly; and additional money is provided for dependent children.
Pittsfield's veterans service office is on the second floor of City Hall and Jim Clark ( 499-9433) can provide help for Pittsfield residents, and if you reside in another town, Jim can tell you who the person is to contact.
The monthly check provided by this service increased by income by 70 percent. Do avail yourself of this service, and I wish all my fellow veterans the best.
Phil Prew, Pittsfield
The Berkshire Eagle, September 26, 2015
In reference to the Sept. 21 letter "Veterans' program offers financial help" by Phil Prew of Pittsfield, the Title 115 program for veterans living below the poverty level pays $1,940 per month for one-person households and pays $2,640 per month for two-person households.
“VA falling well short for Berkshire vets”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, November 15, 2015
There may be no worse example of the east-west divide in Massachusetts when it comes to government services than the health care system for veterans.
The Veterans Affairs Central and Western Massachusetts Healthcare System ranks last in New England in average waiting time for doctor's appointments — an inexcusable 12 days (Eagle, Nov. 13). In contrast, veterans in Boston wait an average of only 3 1/2 days. These kinds of east-west discrepancies are not unique but this one is particularly dramatic, and treatment of veterans who are equally qualified for assistance should not be determined by where they live.
It is encouraging that Secretary of Veterans' Services Franciso Urena, who attended a Veterans Expo at the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield last Thursday, is aware of and unhappy with the situation and reached out to local veterans by speaking to them. There are 120,000 veterans in Berkshire and four other counties impacted by this lackluster assistance.
Too many Berkshire County veterans may be unaware that there is a veterans service officer in every community, largely because some VSOs are better than others at reaching out publicly to veterans. The VA and the VSOs must step up their game in getting veterans to sign up for health care and in assuring that they start receiving it in a timely fashion. Like their Eastern Massachusetts counterparts, they have earned it.
Letter: "Turner House should remain open for veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/12/2016
To the Editor:
I'm grateful for The Eagle's report by Susan Bush ("Turner House shutting its doors." July 5) that spotlighted the threat of closing the Williamstown veterans shelter, the exceptionally beautiful Turner House.
I was sheltered there for two years in 2009 and 2010 after becoming suddenly destitute through state-imposed family property leave. It was a beautiful refuge from camping in a snowbank.
Unfortunately, beauty incites envy and avarice. VA funding may incite other far-flung VA bureaucracies to snatch at the Turner House dollars now amidst confusing new national policies piled onto typical VA confusion.
The beauty of a restored historic house with over half a dozen bathrooms in a scenic college town location can incite fortune seekers eager to grab that ready-made, high income "bed and breakfast" gold mine.
So profiteers and bureaucrat schemers may see dollar signs. I see destruction.
Most former residents there, including myself, are elderly and impoverished. How can we stand up in court? I can at least testify, and I urge others to reach me at 413 652-9274, or 413 212-3834. Either a shutdown or an upscale switch to serving less-needy vet usages would violate the devout intentions of brave World War II volunteer Ferman Turner, who donated the house. I recall him as a diligent school janitor in my school days over 50 years ago. The quiet janitor had no way to leave a wealthy endowment as a legal defense fund.
This region painfully loses jobs, stores, schools, old landmark churches, the beautiful Spruces mobil-park, even the (Northern Berkshire) region's hospital.
Saving Truner House? Struggling against local trends, even against planet trends? Outcomes matter, and are possibly far reaching. An era of military suicides needs healing places preserved here.
Richard David Greene
"Here’s How You Can Help Homeless Vets This Veterans Day"
Volunteer, donate or hire.
The Huffington Post - 11/10/2016
America’s veterans offered their service to us. This Veterans Day, let’s give something back to them.
An estimated 40,000 veterans go homeless [http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/fact-sheet-veteran-homelessness] on any given night in the U.S., according to a report the National Alliance to End Homelessness released last year. That number doesn’t include the 1.4 million vets [http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/] who are considered at risk of homelessness, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
You can help some of our country’s heroes get back on their feet by volunteering, donating or even hiring a military vet. Check out some specific ways to help:
Mentors, program assistance, and counselors or legal aids can significantly help veterans.
Sign up through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Voluntary Service page [http://www.volunteer.va.gov/apps/VolunteerNow/] to volunteer or donate to VA medical centers and hospitals in your area. You can also check out the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ website [http://www.nchv.org/index.php/help/help/locate_organization/] to find a local organization near you.
Shelters are always in need of personal care items and clothing, especially underwear, socks and T-shirts.
To locate a service organization near you, check out the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ website, which provides an interactive map of local shelters and community centers, or call 1-800-VET-HELP.
If you have any doubts about a charity’s performance, websites like Charity Watch [https://www.charitywatch.org/top-rated-charities] and Charity Navigator [https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm] aim to provide ratings on organizations’ contributions and expenses.
There are a number of organizations out there that help match employers with qualified veterans.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s website [http://veterans.gov/employers/local.htm] is one such resource, and the nonprofit Hire Heroes USA [http://jobs.hireheroesusa.org/] offers opportunities for do-gooders to donate, volunteer or host a fundraiser. The website Feds Hire Vets also helps provide federal employment information [https://www.fedshirevets.gov/Index.aspx] for veterans, transitioning service members, their families and employers.
Are you a veteran in need of help?
Veterans who are homeless or feel they are at imminent risk of becoming homeless can contact either their local VA medical center [http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp?isFlash=0] or local community resource and referral center [http://www.va.gov/homeless/crrc-list.asp]. Information is available on the VA’s website [http://www.va.gov/homeless/for_homeless_veterans.asp] or by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
The Vet Center van visits Pittsfield each week when veterans like P.J. Hunt, below, meet with VA counselors like Rick Hendricks. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle.
“Veterans Affairs rolls big rig to help Berkshires vets”
You may have seen it, but do you know about the Department of Veterans Affairs' mobile Vet Center?
By Larry Parnass, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, January 24, 2017
WHO: The staff of the Mobile Vets Center, including technician Craig Hall and counselors Rick Hendricks and Amy Nevells, who roll into Pittsfield several days a month.
All crew members of the vehicle are veterans. That helps them build trust and understanding, Hall and Hendricks told The Eagle. "We want to make sure that you can relate," Hendricks said of clients.
Hall, who is 35 and lives in Sturbridge, served four years with the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, including a deployment to Iraq in 2006. He lost a leg to an improvised explosive device in 2007 when his tank team was leading a convoy of four vehicles looking for IED placements. The blast threw Hall up and out of the tank's open hatch. He landed atop the vehicle. After leaving active duty he said he wanted to find a way to continue to work with veterans.
Hendricks, 57, returned to school after ending a nearly 28-year military career, in which he served as a chaplain assistant. He earned a master's degree in the field of marriage and family therapy and is the Mobile Vet Center staffer who provides that sort of counseling. "If you're in crisis we can see you immediately. We try to minimize the barriers to service," Hendricks said.
WHAT: Free counseling for combat veterans (and their families) who are having trouble re-adjusting to civilian life. Counseling takes place in a room at the rear of the vehicle. The service is also offered to public safety personnel who have experienced trauma, including police officers and firefighters.
A box of tissues sits within reach. "I suggest to my clients, if I didn't make you cry I wouldn't be doing my job," Hendricks said.
The Mobile Vets Center is a 2008 vintage Farber Specialty Vehicle built on a 38-foot Ford chassis. It comes equipped with advance communications gear, including a satellite dish, enabling it to be deployed for federal emergencies of any kind.
Hall's rig operates out of the Springfield Vet Center at 95A Ashley Ave. in West Springfield. The team welcomes drop-ins and scheduled appointments. They set no limits on the length of treatment provided and there is no co-pay or paperwork involved for anyone. "It's as long as you need it," Hall said.
Hendricks adds: "That makes such a huge difference. There's no profit motive in any way, shape or form."
Up to 70 percent of the program's clients are couples or families, with the rest individuals. Many vets are reckoning with what Hendricks terms "moral injury" resulting from actions taken, or not taken, in uniform.
That can include shame. "We try to normalize that shame and guilt for people who grew up in middle America," he said.
By that he means counselors work to help veterans understand the reasons for the ways they feel.
Work to restore emotional availability can take time. Hendricks said one rule of thumb is that one month of counseling is likely to be needed for every year there has been a problem. "Our caseloads are so high right now," Hendricks said. He handles 70 cases himself. In all, the VA problem employs seven therapists, including a team leader. In Pittsfield, the team sees 15 to 20 clients a month, with the most in summer.
WHEN: Selected Mondays and Fridays at the Pittsfield location. For more information on times, call 413-737-5167.
WHERE: The parking lot outside Dick's Sporting Goods, 635 Merrill Road in Pittsfield. In good weather, Hall sets up tables and chairs outside the vehicle. In winter, people just knock on the door. "This is a great place to be to reach out to the veterans who are not near West Springfield," said Hall.
By parking close to Merrill Road, Hall is able to take advantage of the vehicle's bold logos, making it serve as a movable billboard for the VA.
WHY: The goal is to reach and help veterans.
On a recent Friday, P.J. Hunt, co-owner of the Berkshire General Store at 75 North St. in Pittsfield, returned for a session with Hendricks.
Hunt said he is working to rebuild his relationship with his 12-year-old son, Logan, which suffered during Hunt's 2014 deployment to Afghanistan with the 379th Engineer Company of the Army National Guard.
Hunt said he received a keen insight from Hendricks during a session that has made a difference: For a 10-year-old child, a father's absence for a year represents a tenth of his life.
"To him, it was a pretty big deal," Hunt said of his son. He said Hendrick's comment helped him better understand why his relationship with his son had suffered. "It was the first time anybody saw that — and it just made sense," he said.
Hendricks, speaking separately, said it shouldn't come as a surprise that military personnel often find it hard to readjust to expectations of family members, once home.
In couples counseling, a common problem is a returning veteran's emotional distance. That can be the product of post-traumatic stress or the mindset that the military instills in soldiers during training, Hendricks said. Holding one's emotions in check is a survival skill in war, he notes, for people who were trained that vulnerability gets you killed.
"You can't go cry about it, you have to do the mission," Hendricks said of the combat dilemma. His challenge, as therapist, is to help clients understand that true strength can include the ability to show one's weaknesses. "If you can do that, then you're strong," he said.
But first, many need to take the talking cure.
"The vet can't find the ability to go that depth — that fear of intimacy. That obviously causes issues and concerns. The partner doesn't understand what's going on," Hendricks said. "The problem is we don't learn how to reconnect."
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.
Pittsfield: “BHS, Soldier On offer wellness workshop”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 31, 2017
Soldier On and Berkshire Health Systems are partnering up to offer another wellness workshop to Soldier On residents and members within the Berkshire County community.
The workshop, "Thrive," will be offered at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 8, in the dining room on the Soldier On campus, 360 West Housatonic St.
Maureen Daniels, director of Wellness and Community Health for BHS, will talk about building resiliency and shifting focus to see the positives in life.
All are invited to attend this free event.
Letter: “Local VA clinic is too good to lose”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 13, 2017
To the editor:
Once again, I have been most ably served by the Dr. Mark Selby Veterans Administration clinic in Pittsfield. Veterans of Foreign Wars are eligible for medical care at the Selby clinic. I am eligible as a veteran of the Korean War, 1952, '53 and '54, serving aboard the USS Tripoli. Always efficient and professional, Dr. Kimberly May and her five nurses solved my medical problem.
As Veterans Day nears, let us hope this valuable local clinic remains open. Government budget cuts are a threat, especially in times like this with any number of calamities striking the country. A closing means having to travel to a large city like Albany, which would be very inconvenient for all veterans of Berkshire and Hampden Counties.
Robert Ahlen, Pittsfield
“Soldier On looks to build housing for female veterans on West Housatonic Street”
By Haven Orecchio-Egresitz, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, October 12, 2017
PITTSFIELD — An engineer for the veteran housing nonprofit Soldier On appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday to request a permit to bring a 14-unit residential affordable housing project for female veterans to West Housatonic Street.
James Scalise, president of S-K Design Group, told the Zoning Board that the proposed two-story, 8,850-square-foot building at 402 West Housatonic would be located in the same area as the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community for men in transition, which was completed in 2010, but the new project would be permanent housing and the residents would own shares in the building.
"It's a project that is very cohesive with the neighborhood," he said.
Scalise requested an additional 12 parking spots for the new building but doesn't expect to need them all, because only about 50 percent of residents in Soldier On's other housing projects require parking.
If the project is approved, Soldier On would have to demolish a wood-framed house that is on the 1.6-acre parcel before it is built in its footprint, Scalise said.
Soldier On also runs a 16-unit transitional housing program for female veterans in Leeds. The Pittsfield building would be an option for those women when they are ready to move on to more permanent housing, Scalise said. The permanent units, which would be about 450 to 490 square feet each, are intended for families with an income of less than $26,000 a year, according to Scalise.
The only public comment was from David DeGiorgis, of 418 West Housatonic St., who is concerned that the current utility lines for the proposed building run through his backyard.
"Our goal is to either coordinate with you to where you're satisfied, or, if not. we'll go another way," Scalise said.
The construction, at the earliest, would begin around this time next year, he said.
The Zoning Board of Appeals continued the hearing until its Nov. 15 meeting.
“Soldier On's homeless shelter program lost state funding - but it's still staying open through winter”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, The Berkshire Eagle, November 20, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Soldier On isn't letting lack of state funds stop it from providing beds for the city homeless this winter.
John Downing, president of Soldier On, said for the past four years the agency has taken overflow from local shelters. The difference is that this year they're doing it with private donations in lieu of the $45,000 previously issued annually in state funds.
"That earmark for this year is held up and hasn't been approved yet in the budget," he said. "So we're not sure if that money's forthcoming."
He said folks at Soldier On felt the nights turning cold, and found a way to make the beds available.
"The Police Department will pick them up and we manage them through the night, give them breakfast and let them shower," Downing said. "It's worked very well. It's one of the ways our veterans get to give back."
Because a lot of the people they take in are actively using drugs and alcohol, Downing said the agency relies on support from the police and Berkshire Health Systems to make sure that all involved remain safe and healthy.
The program has already begun and runs through April 15. The agency has 10 beds available every day starting at 4 p.m., and "if all the other shelters are jammed to the walls" they can open as many as 16 beds.
"Temperatures go down, beds fill up. It's just the way it is," he said. "We just want to make sure each night — for one night at a time — that they're safe."
Reach Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
Letter: “BHS' health is critical to Soldier on, county”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 3, 2018
To the editor:
Established in Berkshire County 17 years ago, Soldier On is dedicated to providing and coordinating services for veterans who are either homeless or at risk of becoming so. Built on a concept of "trauma informed care," Soldier On uses best practices to persistently engage each individual veteran on his or her path to a more stable and safe lifestyle.
To address the complex issues that our military veterans face, Soldier On depends upon support and assistance from a wide variety of community resources and service agencies. No community partner has contributed more to the success of Soldier On than Berkshire Health Systems. Quietly and effectively, BHS has invested funds, staff resources and innovative ideas to help Soldier On fulfill its local mission.
In the winter of 2015, when the community was faced with an acute shortage of emergency shelter beds, BHS made a direct financial contribution to provide immediate relief and then took a lead role in working with Soldier On and our legislative delegation, the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority, ServiceNet, Louison House and Construct Inc. to secure regular funding in the years 2016-2018.
Seeing an enormous need for transitional beds for individuals completing acute detoxification, BHS did not wait for state funding for clinical stabilization services (CSS) beds, but advanced the necessary funding on its own. The CSS beds sponsored by BHS are an essential resource for members of our community, including veterans, seeking to stabilize their recovery from substance abuse issues.
BHS has also worked closely with Soldier On to develop effective service bridges to allow Berkshire County veterans to efficiently access the health care they need locally.
There has been a great deal of media coverage about the challenges that BHS is facing as it tries to reach agreement with its registered nurses union and do so in a way that is fair to the nurses and sustainable for the community at large. Although the union is understandably mostly concerned about its members' own interests, we at Soldier On urge the MNA and the registered nurses not to overlook the critical importance that a healthy BHS has for all of us in Berkshire County.
Bruce J. Buckley,
John F. Downing,
Bruce J. Buckley is chief executive officer and John F. Downing is president of Soldier On.