The last post I made to this Veterans category was last May! I had good intentions, but... I always underestimate how much time I have and how much time it takes me to do stories and other projects I dream up. Anyway, so to give our war veterans section a boost of energy, I have teamed up with Catherine Vance Caddell of the Veteran's Council of Indian River County for story ideas and features on individuals. So, as always, time will tell !
This story first appeared in the Veterans Day Issue of Luminaries/ TC Palm Newspapers in November 2015:
They may only just received the 501c3 status a little over a year ago, but the Vietnam Veterans of Indian River County have hit the ground running with one main goal in mind - to help Vietnam veterans and ALL other veterans re-adjust to life in the civilian community.
"We want to emphasize that fact, that we help ALL veterans," says president Tim Nightengale.
Tim Nightengale and Vic Diaz are Vietnam veterans who have advocated for veterans rights for years. Last year they decided they needed a local group to keep funds in the county and really help our local veterans, so they started the Vietnam Veterans of Indian River County.
"The need has always been here," says Vic. "This group lives by the motto that we don't leave our dead or wounded on the battlefield. And we all believe that the battlefield didn't end in war."
They already have 40 members and they are trying to reach veterans each day, even going into the woods searching for homeless veterans. They also want to attract the younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to their group.
As advocates for veterans, there is really nothing they don't or won't do! In just one year, they are already running a home that houses four veterans, and they teamed with Every Dream Has A Price on a duplex project that will house eight veterans. Every Dream Has A Price is building it, and the Vietnam Veterans of IRC will run and manage it.
They stand up for veterans rights with the VA and the government, and they help veterans sort out and file important paperwork. Vic and Tim fought to get housing grants which finally came through and in less than one year they have housed 31 veterans using the grants.
They offer a class which gives veterans the skills to get a job in manufacturing, and they provide VA-sanctioned PTSD meetings right in their office at 696 8th Court in Vero Beach every two weeks. The next PTSD meeting is November 16 at 10:30 am.
They even have a warehouse full of donated durable medical equipment just waiting for veterans in need!
"We are also looking for a place we can where we can build a memorial niche for the ashes of those veterans who pass and have no family," says Tim. "Right now, we go pick up the ashes, but we need to find a permanent place for them to rest."
They help run the Victory Center store at the Indian River Mall and Roy Siler leaves our discussion a little early to go work a shift there. "Everyone that works there is a volunteer," he says. "All of the money earned at the store goes to help needy veterans in the county."
The group was one of three organizers of the 1st Annual Veterans BBQ at Gifford Park. Upcoming events for the Veterans Day week include a dinner at the Elks Lodge this Wednesday, November 11.
"All veterans are invited at no charge and guests pay a minimal $5," says member Craig Waskow. His is a familiar face to Luminaries readers because of his work with the Elks Lodge.
"A lot of people don't know he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor in Vietnam," says Vic. "And he is here, giving."
Craig also has organized the Car Show set for this Saturday, November 14 at Velde Ford. "We have 300 cars this year," he says proudly. "We will have six veterans structures or support structures on display and hopefully I will have more yet to come. "
They talk the importance of socializing and how they help each other.
"If I didn't come to this group I wouldn't have made it," says member Tony Garifo. "Now I am able to help and that is how it grows. You know, one day I was at home doing dishes with my sister and the next I was in Vietnam. I got there January 31, 1968 and that night we got hit and we lost 22 guys. I was so young and naive, all I did was throw up. I was only 20 and that is why my therapist says the PTSD was so severe."
He continues, "It's a life. A Messed up life. And to grab somebody's life and put it back in circulation, that's what Tim and Vic and this group do.
Vic shakes his head in agreement. "That is the crux of what we do," he says.
Learn more at www.vvirc.org and call Tim at 586-202-2202.