By Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs July 18, 2012
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Ord Military Community's General Stilwell Community Center was filled with retired military members and their families for the annual Retiree Appreciation Day June 9.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Richard Novak, chairman of the Fort Ord Area Retiree Council, welcomed the gathering and introduced Myles Williams (formerly of the New Christy Minstrels). Williams gave a brief history of the origins of the Star Spangled Banner, singing all four verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner" with the audience seated. He then asked them to rise and sing the first verse again with him as an inspiring opening for the audience.
Presidio of Monterey Garrison Commander Col. Joel Clark urged the retirees from all branches of the service to "tell your story."
He explained that not only is it important to veterans and their families to share these pieces of history, but that it is also important to the nation, so America "knows what you went through and what you did."
There are currently 2.2 million military retirees and more than 6 million dependents in the United States, said Representative Sam Farr, adding that Veterans Affairs funding doubled in the last five years to care for the increased demands on the system due to 10 years at war.
To accommodate local veterans and active-duty service members, Farr pointed to a VA-Department of Defense clinic that planners have been working on for many years.
He said a solution is finally near. The design work should be done in the summer of 2013. Then a builder/developer will be chosen, and construction should start in early 2014. He added that the builder will own the Marina facility and the VA/DOD will obtain a long-term lease.
As for a cemetery on the former Fort Ord, Farr said he proposed that land at the former fort be used for an Arlington-type cemetery on the west coast. "This may help speed up the process for establishing a cemetery out there."
Kerri Childress, communications officer and congressional liaison for Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, expanded on Farr's comments about the new VA-DOD clinic, explaining that the 155,000-square-foot facility will be able to serve 10,000 veterans.
She said that it will offer new programs and expand on others offered at the current facility.
In the near-term, Childress said that Palo Alto was scheduled to open a new mental health facility at the end of June.
She said the facility has inner courtyards for the patients to use that are shielded from the outside, private rooms and other amenities.
On a larger scale, beginning next summer, veterans who live more than 50 miles from the Palo Alto campus will be able to stay at the Defender's Lodge--like a Fisher House--for free.
It can be used to spend the night before an appointment or stay on a few days after a procedure to ensure they have someone looking after them, she said.
Defenders Lodge will replace an existing "Hometel" that is scheduled to be torn down in 2012.
As a final comment, Childress pointed out there are about 25,000 veterans living in the Monterey area. She asked those in attendance to encourage the Iraqi-Afghanistan vets to seek out help, either through the VA or other means.
"Please encourage them to contact the VA," she said. "The lesson we learned from Vietnam was the sooner a vet gets mental health treatment the better off they are."
Other presentations included a donation from the E-9 Association for the Army
Emergency Relief Fund; a briefing on the Air Force's "Space-A" (space-available) opportunities; and briefing by the director of Benefits Information and Financial Education Department for the Military Officers Association of America.
In addition to the presentations, exhibit booths were staffed with representatives from the Exchange; Ord Community Commissary; Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; Veterans Administration Health System; Central Coast Federal Credit Union; and Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, to name just a few. Door prizes were awarded throughout the program.
Wrapping up the event was a barbecue lunch that included hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and more. The food was donated by commissary vendors and served by Better Opportunities for Single Service members.
The Fort Ord Area Retiree Council and the U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey sponsored the event.
(Editor's note: M. Susan Breen contributed to this article.)