Take Time To Reflect On How Lucky We Are

With the recent celebration of the Fourth of July, I hope everyone took some time to reflect on how lucky we are to be able to enjoy the freedoms of this nation and to thank those who defended and continue to defend our rights and freedoms.

Growing up I was exposed to many cultures and people from different lands, but it is only as I get older and I find myself really analyzing how different the U.S. is from so many other places that I realize how lucky I am to have been born and raised here.

Likewise it was difficult for me to fully understand the sacrifice, the commitment and the bravery of those who defend our nation until my son, Pano, joined the Marines in 2006 and went to serve abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat engineer with a bomb disposal unit. I could not watch the news the whole time he was deployed, and I prayed every night for his safety, waiting for the next weekly phone call that would tell me he was OK. I cannot imagine how parents during World War I and II held up, not knowing sometimes for years whether their child was dead or alive.

We were very lucky that my son got through this experience in one piece, but he is not the same person that we sent off four years before. He is tougher both mentally and physically, quieter (no longer a chatty Cathy) and more thoughtful.

War changes you even if you have no scars on the outside. Even though I don’t know everything that happened to him, I am sure his experiences in the military will influence him the rest of his life. So I invite each of you who enjoy the freedoms of this country to thank our service men and women both past and present. Honor them by flying the flag. While none of our military men and women look for praise, they certainly deserve it.

As OFA director, I was very pleased about three years ago to invite our county Veterans Service Agency (VSA) to co-locate with our OFA outreach staff in both Jamestown and Dunkirk. As I and former VSA director, Troy Smith, met at various department head meetings we would talk about my son who was still in the military.

Of course, Troy was just a wealth of great information about what my son should be doing while still in the service and post discharge to ensure his military benefits. It was during these discussions that we both got to know more about the other departments and programs and started to explore how our departments complemented each other especially as it came to senior veterans and their families.

When the veterans’ clinic moved into our building at 610 W. Third St. in Jamestown, and Troy was looking for a new space for the VSA, it seemed like a no brainer to have VSA join with OFA. Later that year, a fire destroyed the North County Office Building in Dunkirk, leaving the VSA without an office for their worker, so we encouraged them to approach the mayor of Dunkirk about locating with us at the senior center. Again it was a natural fit.

Since moving in together, VSA and OFA workers routinely work in tandem to counsel veterans and their spouses on Medicare and VA health benefits. Recently the federal VA expanded their primary care at home program to Chautauqua County and their offices are also located in our building. VSA and OFA have worked together to indentify veterans and make referrals to this program.

We have consolidated our front offices and cross trained our office staff so they can provide support and information for both programs. The main function of the county VSA is to help veterans of any age to obtain their federal VA benefits which include pensions, healthcare benefits and disability benefits.

VSA does not provide direct-care services like the OFA home-care programs, except transportation to medical appointments, which we both provide through our partnership with CARTs. So when the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation found a private donor who wanted to help veterans with emergency home repairs and handicap adaptations, we joined forces again to deliver this much-needed service. Our VSA officers help to identify veterans of any age in need of ramps, bathroom modifications, and other handicap home adaptations and OFA implements and oversee the program with our community partner, CHRIC.

I think this partnership works so well because the missions of our departments are very similar. Both VSA and OFA are about helping people get what they need to live a high qualify independent life in a safe and secure environment. I want to thank Doug Diers, VSA director; Mike Rauh and Jim Hurley, service officers; and Carrie Finnerty for their service to our country and their continued support of the veterans who live in Chautauqua County. If you are a veteran who is looking for a service to help you stay independent at home, call the NY Connects Helpline at 753-4582, 363-4582 or 661-7582. Remember both OFA and VSA are here to help you.