- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2012

Supporting our veterans doesn’t have to mean yet another expensive government program and unwieldy, impersonal bureaucracy. In the best of cases it comes down to the public-spirited efforts of citizens who care enough to make a difference.

Col. Marty Zickert, U.S.Air Force (ret.), a Vietnam veteran with 30 years of service, shows us how. Mr. Zickert is president of the Veteran’s Council in Indian River County, Fla., a group of 23 volunteer organizations, not all of which are service-related. Their mission is to provide transportation for elderly and disabled veterans to get to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center 70 miles away in West Palm Beach. There are 18,000 veterans in Indian River County, many of whom are seniors who defended our freedoms in World War II and Korea but today face trouble driving long distances. The Veteran’s Council makes sure 250 vets per month get needed medical care.

The bus they were using was getting old and had limited accommodation for those with physical handicaps. They sought ways to raise funds to buy a replacement. Thanks to the generous donation of local supporter Doris Jorgenson, they were able to open the Victory Center, a military retail store, that will help them generate cash.

The front of the center is a retail outlet staffed with volunteers selling military-related items. Half of the money earned is devoted to the bus fund, the rest is put back into the community. Around back, the “R&R Bunker” serves as a place where veterans can come to relax, have coffee and donuts, watch TV or use the free WiFi connections. Two computers with Skype allow family members to talk to their loved ones overseas.

Unemployment is high for veterans, particularly in the first year after they leave the colors, so classes such as financial planning or physical therapy are offered based on their needs. Some vets require more intensive care. “The government doesn’t do a lot for you if you aren’t wounded,” Mr. Zickert told The Washington Times. “The guys coming back have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] beyond belief. It’s worse than what we had in Vietnam.” One group they work with is Dogs for Life, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs for assistance, companionship or pet-assisted therapy.

A “wall of honor” in the center features photos of local veterans, and the center honors two hometown men who went to war and did not come back. Lt. Col. Joseph “Trane” McCloud, U.S. Marine Corps, was killed in Iraq on Dec. 3, 2006. U.S. Army Specialist Dale Kridlow died on Nov. 7, 2010, of wounds from an insurgent attack in Afghanistan.

“We started out with a small idea and it grew to the point where we can’t believe it,” said Mr. Zickert. The Simon Mall chain considers it a model for other potential veterans centers. Future plans include a promotional golf tournament and a concert in August featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Victory Center demonstrates what vision, personal efforts and enthusiastic community support can accomplish. And, as Mr. Zickert said, “all this came from buying a bus.”

The Washington Times

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