Archive for May, 2013

Community for homeless vets planned for Fort Monmouth


Staff Writer

A five-year plan to provide a community for homeless veterans at Fort Monmouth is coming to fruition with the recent designation of a 10-acre parcel on Eatontown’s area of the fort.

Members of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) approved a resolution to offer the parcel, known as Parcel VI, for purchase at the May 15 board meeting with the specific purpose of establishing a community specifically for at-risk veterans.

“We think that this can be a terrific project that can offer many veterans who may have had some hard luck — a good way to become part of the community, to grow and prosper,” Bruce Steadman, executive director of FMERA, said following the meeting.

According to the Fort Monmouth Reuse Plan, the property is currently slated as open space, and use as a veterans’ community would require a plan amendment.

Steadman said that FMERA staff has been looking at various parcels on Fort Monmouth for the past two years in search of a convenient location for the planned use.

“There have been discussions with Tinton Falls and Oceanport about possible sites and even other sites in Eatontown … this is probably the best parcel size that is not bounded by other homes or other significant aspects of the community,” he said. “We felt that there would be some insulation and some recreational areas for the veterans to use so that they would feel comfortable. It’s consistent with projects that we have seen out of the state.”

The vacant parcel, previously used recreational activities, is located along Alexander Avenue on the Main Post in Eatontown and is bound by the Monmouth County motor pool, the former Lane Hall and a small lake.

Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry, a member of FMERA and chairwoman of the Veterans Advisory Committee, said that the project has been in the planning stages for at least five years.

“This is a giant step forward, and we are on the go now,” Burry said.

“There is nothing in Monmouth County like this, and it’s very much needed.”

According to FMERA, there are as many as 10,000 to 20,000 homeless veterans living in New Jersey, and Burry said more than 500 live in Monmouth County.

According to the resolution, each offer to purchase the property will be evaluated according to specific criteria, including the type, size, configuration and materials of the proposed buildings; the size, floor plan and amenities associated with individual living units; and the proposed management plan for the community, including the extent to which the veterans themselves would have input or responsibility.

Other criteria includes the extent to which individual resident veterans may pay rent or own equity in the project, the project’s potential for helping to address the fort’s affordable housing and homeless assistance obligations, and other guidelines.

Soldier On, a Massachusetts based nonprofit, has expressed interest in financing and constructing such a project on the fort, Burry said.

In August 2012, Soldier On announced that a $1 million federal grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families (SSVF) grant program would be used to provide services for underserved veterans in Monmouth County.

Jack Downing, CEO of Soldier On, said the program would be implemented in two phases: installing case managers to gather information about veterans’ needs; and building transitional, low-income housing for homeless veterans at Fort Monmouth.

At the time, Downing said discussions were ongoing with FMERA, and the nonprofit was also working with AcuteCare Health System, a Lakewood-based health services company that will occupy the former Patterson Army Health Clinic building on the fort grounds in Oceanport.

Currently, Soldier On operates in two locations: a 165-bed shelter in two buildings leased from the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds, Mass., and the Berkshire Veterans Residence in Pittsfield, Mass., a transitional living facility

Burry confirmed that Soldier On is still an interested party, but said FMERA must consider all proposals.

No matter who occupies the site, Burry is confident that the veterans community would be a beneficial addition to the fort.

“It’s a good location, and it’s also close to the county’s properties that we have there. It’s easily accessible since it’s near the main road. You can walk to the medical center from the site,” she said.

“I am sure that it will grow beyond the homeless and will address the needs of the veterans in general. I am looking forward to the next step, and that is for the [request for proposals] to get out there, get the proper responses and to digging the first hole.”

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Fundraiser set in Lee this weekend in honor of Edward S. Passetto

LEE — A local nursery has planned a Memorial Day weekend fundraiser in memory of Edward S. Passetto to benefit area homeless veterans.

On Saturday and Sunday, Clark’s Nursery in South Lee will match all sales tax on plants and gardening items, the money raised donated on Passetto’s behalf to Soldier On in Pittsfield, according to the family-run business.

Clark’s will also put out a collection jar at its Route 102 location for those wishing to make personal donations in Passetto’s name.

Soldier On is a nonprofit organization that provides housing for needy veterans in the Berkshires.

Passetto, a Lee native, was a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran of Pittsfield who died May 11 in an apparent suicide on Monument Mountain in Great Barrington. He had long struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Brittany Clark, daughter of owner Rodney Clark, was a classmate of Passetto’s, and graduated from Lee Middle and High School in 2004. Clark says her family felt compelled to do something to honor Passetto who battled the Veterans Affairs over his claim for disability benefits.

“I work in he mental health field and deal with the struggles of having limited resources available,” Brittany Clark said.

She added, “It is so frustrating to wait while insurance companies and [government agencies] fight over who’s responsible to foot the bill, while someone is struggling, waiting for an answer.”

Passetto spent seven years in the Marines. As a Marine, he served one tour of duty each in Iraq and Afghanistan and is credited with risking his life to save two people from a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Passetto received a medical discharge in March 2011.

Clark’s will also put out a collection jar at its Route 102 location for those wishing to make personal donations in Passetto’s name.


Jack Downing Receives Doctor of Public Services from MCLA

Honorary DegreeHonorary degree recipients: Elizabeth Coleman, Doctor of Humanities; Mardi Ann Crane-Godreau ’98 Ph. D, Doctor of Science; John F. Downing, Doctor of Public Service; and Diane B. Patrick, Doctor of Laws.

On Saturday, May 18, 2013, Soldier On president and CEO Jack Downing was awarded a degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa, by the Board of Trustees of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Below is a letter to Jack from MCLA explaining the work he has done with veterans to earn this degree.

“Jack Downing, It is impossible to overstate the impact that you, and Soldier On, the organization you serve as a president and CEO, have had on how we treat out veterans in this country. Your passionate defense of your values, your sense of social justice, your empathy, and your boundless energy have resulted in an improved quality of life for the most vulnerable members of American society.

As a boy growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, you were one of nine children. Your brothers and sisters were encouraged by your parents to engage in debate, and you learned early on how to argue the values and positions you held dear.

As a young man you won the heart of Mary Tobin, and Mary has been your source of strength, love, and truth through good times and bad. Together, you and Mary have created a home for your two biological children, and for the seven you’ve adopted.

You have been a powerful advocate for youthful offenders, and for the imprisoned and the addicted. These experiences, and your service to your community, prepared you for what would become your defining work: changing the end of the story for homeless veterans of U.S. military service.

In 2001 you became the head of United Veterans of America, Inc. in Leeds, Massachusetts. At the time, the UVA shelter program was in disarray and the Veterans’ Administration had cut the program’s funding. In your words, veterans were ricocheting between the medical center, the shelter, the streets, and prison. You went to Washington, made your case, and your funding was restored.

You recast UVA as Soldier On, an agency that would create permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans. Speaking truth to power, you fearlessly advocated for new programs and increased funding for homeless veterans.

You sounded the alarm that women veterans were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with all the injuries suffered by mal veterans, in addition to alarming rates of rape and abuse. You have borne witness, and your testimonies before congressional committees are both legendary and memorable.

You hired new, young professional staff, among them women. You trained Soldier On’s formerly homeless veterans to manage the facilities in Leeds, and embarked on unprecedented and ambitious effort to create a home ownership opportunity for homeless veterans. Your dream was that of veterans owning, occupying, and managing their own homes and living free of institutional constraints.

Today, the Gordon Mansfield Veterans Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is home to 39 formerly homeless veterans. Currently, Soldier On is building two new veterans villages in Massachusetts, and another is planned for New Hampshire. In nine more states across the country, Soldier on is providing technical assistance to others wishing to emulate the model. BusinessWest Magazine has recognized you as a Difference Maker and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has singled Soldier On out for recognition as well.

You have shown us that veterans deserve better, and that therapy, support, case management, and safe, decent housing can help our veterans return to productive lives once their military service is complete. You have opened our eyes to the plight of women veterans. You have rebuilt lives and sheltered battered souls. And, yes, you have changed the end of the story for homeless veterans.

John F. Downing, on behalf of veterans everywhere, the Board of Trustees of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is proud to award you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa.”


Veterans services highlighted at expo in Cummington

CUMMINGTON — Iraq war veteran Alonzo Swift lived in his car for close to four years after becoming unemployed soon after his return from duty in 2005. This changed when he learned about Soldier On, an organization that provides services for homeless veterans, at an outreach event in Springfield in 2010.

Soldier On was among the organizations present at the first Small Town Veterans Expo held at the Cummington Fairgrounds on Friday and Saturday. The expo, sponsored by the Central Hampshire Veterans Services District and the VA Central Western Massachusetts Health Care System, aimed to make veterans in small towns aware of available services. It featured booths from more than 30 organizations offering veterans services such as health care, housing assistance and career resources.

Swift, an Army veteran who is now the director of transportation for Soldier On in Leeds, was among the organization’s representatives at the event. He said Soldier On first helped him by giving him a place to sleep and putting a roof over his head. Sleeping in a bed, he said, allowed him to “wake up with a clear head.”

In late 2011 he began volunteering at Soldier On by driving other veterans to appointments. About a month later that became a paid position, and he became the director of transportation in October 2012.

Steven James Connor, director of the Central Hampshire Veterans Services District, said he got the idea for the expo from similar veterans outreach events in more heavily populated communities. He wanted to bring the same opportunities to veterans in rural areas.

On Saturday, a 16-vehicle procession began at the Pelham Public Safety Complex about 10 a.m. and traveled through Amherst, Hadley, Northampton, Williamsburg and Goshen before arriving in Cummington for the noon ceremony. Some of the vehicles in the convoy were driven by veterans who are now members of local fire and police departments.

“It just shows that these veterans go right back into public service,” Connor said.

Connor said the biggest turnout along the route was in Williamsburg, where residents held flags and “Welcome Home” signs. Connor said one of the participating veterans told him he almost cried when he saw that support.

Also among the vehicles in the convoy was a former racing car owned by Thomas Pease, color guard member and senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. He pulled it on a trailer attached to a pickup truck.

Pease, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War who lives in Florence, turned the 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo into a “tribute car” after it became too old to race. It now bears approximately 3,500 names from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., including that of his friend, Lawrence N. Savino, who was killed in Vietnam in May 1969.

“Larry was a very popular young man,” he recalled. “All the girls liked him.”

After the arrival of the convoy, military veterans and their families filled the fairgrounds pavilion for the opening ceremony, which included remarks by local government officials.

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, emphasized the importance of veterans receiving government services.

“I know there isn’t really enough we can do in state or federal government to say thank you,” Downing said, adding that he would like to “make sure you are served at least half as well by your government as you have served us.”

Other organizations with booths at the event included the Franklin Hampshire Career Center in Northampton; the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke; Homeward Vets Inc. of Southampton, a nonprofit that gives used or new home furnishings to veterans coming out of homelessness; and HomeFront Equestrians of Ware, a nonprofit that provides free riding lessons for children of military parents.

Hilltown Air Force veteran John Stec, who served in Iraq for eight months in 2003, said he came because he wanted to speak to a health care representative in person after his application to the VA system was held up due to a backlog. The event gave him the opportunity to meet a health care representative in person and set up a face-to-face meeting, Stec added.

While the rainy weather seemed to affect attendance, Connor said the veterans who turned out were grateful to learn about the services available to them. He added that the expo will be held again next year.

“The one thing that we all walked away with is that there is a need for what we’re trying to do, and we’ve just got to keep at it,” Connor said.

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Gazette Contributing Writer

Saturday, May 11, 2013 

(Published in print: Monday, May 13, 2013)

Memorial Day Marathon Races

MDM logoSoldier On will be volunteering at the Memorial Day Marathon Races in Lenox, MA on Sunday, May 26! There will be runners sponsored by Soldier On as well as many volunteers from the organization participating on race day! The races start at 8 AM will go until about noon. Local entertainment and vendors will be present at Tanglewood from noon to 5. There will be a Soldier On table with materials and a representative at the Berkshire Bank tent… stop by and show your support!

Visit for more information on the races and events!

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