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Veterans Council - alive, growing, and maturing

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By Michael Isam

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St. Augustine, Fla. (March 27, 2014) – The Veterans Council forges on after more than 10 years of service and it was a busy night.

On Wednesday night, The Veterans Council of St. Johns County installed officers for the 2014 calendar year. With Joe McDermott, Senior Veteran Service Officer for St. Johns County, administering the oath Chairman Bill Dudley; Deputy Chairman Ray Quinn; George April, Secretary; Treasurer, Michael Rothfeld swore to “faithfully execute the duties of the office to which they were elected or appointed.”

In other matters, Ms. Tracey Burke of the Garden Club of St. Augustine spoke to the membership of scholarships available to veterans. “Scholarships for veterans and active duty personnel are available in the amounts of $500 and $1000. Applicants can live anywhere, but must bs rooted in St. Johns County.” Burke went on to explain, “This means if the applicant is from St. Johns County, and are committed to a career in Horticulture, Landscape Design, Landscape Architecture, Ecology,
Conservation, Botany, Forestry or related fields, please apply.” “This is the first time to traverse this avenue for applicants.” For more information contact Burke at 904-321-9497 or tracey949@gmail.com.

Kathy Church, Missing in America Project (MIAP) State Coordinator spoke briefly about the upcoming ceremony in the Jacksonville National Cemetery. “On March 28 at 1:30pm MIAP will conduct funeral services for 20 unclaimed veterans. The cremains, some of which have sat unclaimed in funeral homes for decades, will be interred in the columbarium at the cemetery,” said Church, “we will be interring 6 WWI, 6 WWII, 1 Korean War, 2 Vietnam War veterans, 4 WWI spouses and 1 infant son of a Vietnam veteran.”

Pallbearers and Flag carriers need to be at the cemetery by noon to meet the hearse. Motorcyclists or anyone wanting to take part in the escort of the hearse led by JSO need to be at the Town & Country Funeral Home located at 7242 Normandy Blvd, in Jacksonville by 10:30 a.m. KSU will be at 11:15 with a safety briefing by JSO personnel.

This service is open to the public so that all may honor these “forgotten heroes”.

Jacksonville National Cemetery is located at 4083 Lannie Road, north of jacksonville. For more information, contact Kathy Church, MIAP State Coordinator at miapjax@yahoo.com or (904) 219-3035.

Other matters coming up for a report involved two new areas of ongoing commitment for the veterans of St. Johns County.

Chairman Bill Dudley brought the council up-to-date on the establishment of a Veterans Court system for the county. “Veterans Courts have proven to be successful in helping veterans get the care they need to break the cycle,” said Dudley. “We have the blessing of Sheriff Shoar and many of his deputies. We are now in talks with the court system of the county to find ways to implement the system in St. Johns.”

Often called a ‘Treatment Court’, the idea first came to fruition in Buffalo, New York in 2008. According their website, http://www.buffaloveteranscourt.org/, “The Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court is a hybrid drug and mental health court that serves veterans who are struggling with addiction and / or mental illness by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system into a specialized veterans court.”

According to a December 23, 2013 article in The Florida Times-Union, Duval County, FL began their veterans court program in 2012 as an offshoot of drug and mental health court. The system is no cake-walk.

According to a quote from 23-year Navy veteran John Holzbaur, Public Defender’s Office coordinator for military and veterans affairs, “It’s not an easy road for the participants, however. Many must wear alcohol monitors, ankle bracelets or submit to drug testing or risk being kicked out of the program.”

On the horizon is the formation of a Veterans Advisory Board. The board is in the inception stage and the future is not totally defined at the present time.

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