By Maddy Vitale
During a town meeting Saturday organized by Ocean City Fourth Ward Councilman Bob Barr, veterans organizations spoke about an array of services they have for their members and how civilians can help support them.
New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs representative Jim Scanlon spoke about the problem of homeless vets.
“We have a liberal definition of homelessness,” Scanlon told about 30 audience members in a lecture hall at the Ocean City Free Public Library. “We had 139 veterans pass through the system last year who were homeless.”
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs estimates that there are 600 veterans who are homeless in New Jersey.
“We don’t know,” Scanlon said.
He noted there is an event called “Stand Down” to help the homeless that will be held in Atlantic City on May 22 at the All Wars Memorial, 1510 Adriatic Ave. The event is designed to give New Jersey veterans a helping hand or hand up, focusing on homeless veterans and those needing help with benefits, medical needs, clothing and more.
It is just one way, Scanlon said, the veterans organizations are available to help the men and women who served but have run into difficulty.
Councilman Keith Hartzell was in the audience. He asked what he and others could do to help.
“Is there anything individuals can do – regular civilians?” Hartzell said. “We’ve been asking at City Council what we can do. This is something I think is very forgotten. You guys do a great job reminding people, but I think there is not enough emphasis on the homeless. Hopefully we can start a movement.”
Scanlon said just keeping the information in the forefront that it is a problem, as well as volunteering and supporting veterans through their posts and causes, are all ways to help.
According to Scanlon, there are 38,000 American Legion members in the state and 2.2 million in the country. However, he said, the numbers are declining countrywide. Again, he urged the public to support the veterans and all the good that they do for the community.
While numbers have decreased in some states or communities, American Legion Post 524 of Ocean City is going strong, Post Commander Bob Marzulli said.
There are 700 Post 524 members, many of whom are active, Marzulli noted.
Marzulli said his post gives back to its veterans and the community with events throughout the year.
“Any veteran who needs anything is always welcomed in our post. As long as they are in need, they can come to the post,” Marzulli said, emphasizing that a veteran does not have to be a member to get assistance.
He said, thanks to the support of the city and City Council, Post 524 gets to do a lot of things throughout the year.
In addition to Scanlon and Marzulli, Post 524 Adjutant Jack Hagen said a few words.
He said one of the big successes this year, aside from opening their new American Legion building at 4562 West Ave., was making a veterans program called Telehealth available at the post. This way, for routine doctor’s visits, a veteran doesn’t have to drive to Wilmington, Del., or Philadelphia for care.
“We have a link to their doctor. We are the only American Legion post in the state to have done this,” Hagen said. “There are a lot of other things we get involved in.”
Hagen said the post partners with other organizations for the Walk for the Wounded, the Run for the Fallen and many other ways to honor veterans.
“The Run for the Fallen, it is a wonderful experience,” Hagen said. “Ocean City has the strongest turnout for the event. Neighbors show up at 12 markers and we get hundreds of people who come out. It is a wonderful event to meet and greet Gold Star family members, whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Marzulli closed by telling the audience that if anyone knows of a veteran in need, they should contact Post 524.
“Don’t hesitate to let us know,” Marzulli said. “We look forward to doing whatever we can to help.”
He also praised Barr, whom he said was instrumental in making the new building for the veterans at Post 524 possible. The result of a larger building was many more activities to help veterans and service the community.
Veterans advocate Joe Griffies, who hosts a radio show called the “Welcome Home Show” on WIBG, also spoke.
Griffies said something must be done to change the requirements when it comes to where a veteran may get his or her healthcare. He has lived in Cape May County for 52 years, yet he still has to travel to the veterans hospital in Philadelphia. At one point, he said, he had to drive with a bad hip to his appointment.
He also said that homelessness should not be an issue for veterans and that something must be done to help the people who served in the military.