Veterans don’t have to look very far for help

Ryan Pardo and Caitlin Lavorgna visit at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Front and Spruce streets. Thousand of veterans visit each year. Charles Mostoller/METRO
Ryan Pardo and Caitlin Lavorgna visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Front and Spruce streets. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

Whether they are veterans recently returning from battlefields in the Middle Eastern desert or drifting aimlessly through deserted streets, city, state and federal governments make resources available to help them reintegrate into the communities they served to protect.

In an office just outside the City Hall courtyard, a branch of the Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Commission is available to help. PVAC is directed to consult with government and nonprofit agencies that distribute veterans’ benefits and to advise veterans of entitled benefits.

The office is a conduit. If a veteran is in need of assistance, officials point them in the right direction.

Wanda Pate-Dennis, veterans coordinator for the Veterans Advisory Commission, works with more than 50 organizations.

For veterans just coming home, “The most important thing is for them to know that there are resources and benefits for them and that we can help them get to those resources and benefits.”

For veterans who are homeless, the office can help seek out shelter, as well as alcohol and drug treatment programs, or connect with the federal veterans affairs organization.

“We count on veterans organizations who are providers of these services,” she said.

PVAC is composed of seven members appointed by the mayor and City Council president.

Ari Merretazon, who represents Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry, maintains that only an independent Veterans Affairs office with a full-time director can appropriately serve the veteran population.

Merretazon, 66, said PVAC has not had a regular public meeting since 2009. The group said they do meet regularly, but not in public.

He points to state law that instructs each county to host a Veterans Affairs Office, which includes a county-appointed director, and advocates for veterans and distributes grant money that the state makes available.

“We need an advocate and facilitator at the city level to make sure that veterans who are supposed to receive benefits receive those benefits,” he said. “The PVAC can only advise.”

David Kamioner, executive director of the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House, said the Veterans Advisory Commission office “acts as a clearinghouse,” and members wade through the bureaucracy to get help to veterans.

“[Wanda Pate-Dennis] knows where those bones are buried,” he said.

Pate-Dennis said while her office doesn’t have a director, it can get things done, and that’s all that matters.

“We’re not saying we’ve conquered, we’ve got the battle done,” Pate-Dennis said. “This is an ongoing fight. This is an ongoing charge toward making sure that every veteran knows there are resources.”

The following are resources for veterans to utilize:

City: Contact Wanda Pate-Dennis at the Veterans Advisory Commission office at 215-686-3256.

State: Career Link for jobs, unemployment benefits and veterans help. Contact Karen McFadden at 215-560-5465, ext. 241

Federal: Social Security for entitlements to benefits. Contact Edward Lafferty at 866-398-1456, ext. 29305.
Sen. Pay Toomey’s office for federal entitlements. Contact Imani Johnson at 215-241-1090.
Veterans Affairs regional office for all veterans compensation and services. Contact Robert Constantini at 215-307-5923.
Veterans Affairs Medical Center for all medical entitlements. Contact Fern Billet at 215-823-5913.


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