A veteran who has been walking the halls of City Hall for years claiming veterans are getting short shrift is taking his claims to the courts.
Ari Merretazon, founder of the local Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry nonprofit, claims that a 1955 provision in the city charter budgeting for an office of veterans affairs with a salaried director has never been followed properly.
There is a veterans commission in City Hall, but Merretazon said an office, instead of a commission, could have reached more Philly veterans and helped them reap higher benefits.
“Imagine the millions of dollars that would have been coming to Philadelphia if we had a veteran’s office,” said Merretazon, 69.
Merretazon's lawsuit demands the city set up a new veteran’s office and argues that they are out of compliance with the law.
Representatives of city government declined to comment on Merretazon’s claims. The current Philadelphia veterans' advisory commission has paid staff and volunteers who help Philly veterans obtain various benefits.
Nonetheless, as federal Veterans Affairs have been mired in scandal, with Philly branches acknowledging egregious negligence, it's well known that many local veterans are hurting. Merretazon says the office he is suing to create could undo some of the damage.
“Significant benefits guaranteed to plaintiffs and their families are not being honored or given to them by defendant or the director of the Veterans’ Advisory Commission," the lawsuit states.
Merretazon said he first learned about the 1955 charter provision after finding out a war buddy from his 1968 tour in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry division had died of a drug overdose.
Merretazon said he was shocked Philly had no registry of local veterans that listed his friend's next of kin or last known address. He thinks a more dedicated veterans office could have benefitted vets like his friend.
“Maybe he would have been able to get some help," Merretazon said of his friend.
Some sources familiar with Pointman Soldiers Ministry said he founded the organization after getting passed over to lead the veterans' advisory commission, which Merretazon denied.
The lawsuit argues that Merretazon is the perfect candidate for the job and demands lost wages retroactive to the date that he claims he was wrongfully passed over.
“Merretazon has applied for the position of director …. and was interviewed and is highly qualified but was denied the job,” the suit states.
Nonetheless, Merretazon said he is motivated by a desire to help other vets, not a paycheck.
“It’s not about helping me get a job. We have a whole lot of qualified veterans,” he said. “I’m 100 percent disabled. I’ve got mine. I’m trying to help other people get theirs.”