PHOTO: Surrounded by freeholders, USAF Capt. Gary Baldwin, second from left, and Sue Moleon, Executive Director, Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian G. Burry cuts the ribbon officially opening the Veterans Connection at Fort Monmouth.  photos by Rhoda Chodosh

OCEANPORT, NJ – More than 75 guests, including veterans of at least two different and distant wars were on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened the new Veterans Connection office Thursday at Fort Monmouth, all eager to show their appreciation and tell their stories about why the satellite office is so important to them.

“It’s not only the veterans’ services that it offers,” said Vietnam vet Allen Saltzman of Morganville, “it’s just that it finally gives us a feeling that we’re appreciated.”  Saltzman who served one of his two years in the army in Vietnam, was wounded, suffers from PTSA and has suffered eight heart attacks related to Agent Orange, still feels the sting of coming home from war to a nation hostile to his military service and unwilling to give him thanks and praise for serving in the army.

Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian G. Burry led the ribbon cutting ceremony and drew praise for her indefatigable efforts in having it be a realization on the former army installation. Both as a freeholder and chairperson of the Veterans Subcommittee of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, Burry had led the drive to have the Veterans Connection housed at 1000 Sanger Avenue, Russell Hall during its active army days, one of the six Fort Monmouth properties on the former army installation that was sold in Oceanport. Another 13-acre parcel will be the setting for the new municipal complex for the borough and both are part of the revitalization of Fort Monmouth.

Ernie Dioro of Manalapan, vice president of chapter 12, the Shore Chapter of Vietnam Vets, said the new facility provides a variety of services to help veterans and their families apply for benefits and other compensation military members have earned through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Having the facility in this part of Monmouth County makes it accessible to so many veterans, he said, and he is grateful that FMERA and Mrs. Burry, worked so hard to have it become reality.

In her remarks before cutting the ribbon, Deputy Director Burry traced the history of the new Veterans Connection, citing when the army base was BRACed by Congress in 2005, and she was named by Governor Jon Corzine to the Fort Monmouth Planning Authority after its closure. It was at that time and lamenting the closure of an installation that had long been part of the Monmouth County community, she said, she and others like her decided to make a lemon into lemonade. “Well, look around you, attend one of our Authority meetings, and see how lemonade is now a reality,” she said to applause and cheers.

Burry said it has always been a high priority to house the Veterans Connection on site, noting at one time, 6,700 people served the army there, and untold thousands of active and retired military reside in the area. She also noted and praised Soldier On, the other organization active in rehabilitation of services for veterans in Monmouth County. Soldier On is building to provide facilities for homeless vets in Tinton Falls.

PHOTO:  Freeholder Pat Imprevoduto, far right, joins veterans at the ribbon cutting ceremonies for the Veterans Connection in Russell Hall, Fort Monmouth last Thursday.

“We have come full circle,” Burry said, “Fort Monmouth was named after the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Monmouth and was itself an important military fixture in Monmouth County until it was decommissioned. “And now we are reaching back to our military roots by opening the Veterans Connection office right here.”

The office, which will be open Mondays and Thursdays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. by appointment only, can be reached at 732-683-8675.  It is staffed by Sue Moleon, MA, VSO as executive director, of the Office on Aging, Disabilities and Veterans Services, and Jeff Schwartz and will help veterans and their families in applying for service connected compensation and benefits, get medical access, secure transportation to and from medical appointments, connect veterans to a variety of services including assistance for substance use disorders, employment counseling and vocational training.

In introducing Deputy Director Burry, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni, a US Navy officer, traced personal reasons why the Veterans Center is an important addition to Monmouth County for himself, and called Burry “a force to be reckoned with” in her advocacy for help for veterans. Retired Air Force Capt. Gary Baldwin, reiterated Gramiccioni’s praise for the deputy director, and said the Veterans Connection fills a strong need in Monmouth County.

Moleon said the Connection has already responded to that need in its opening weeks, with more than 600 veterans making use of the facilities and services in the course of a month, and more than $29 million in awards already received by veterans through the assistance of this office.