For many older veterans, groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans Search and Rescue, provide a social life and a lifeline.
“That’s their lifeblood,” said Norm Stitzel, who serves multiple roles with different veterans groups. “That’s their camaraderie. That’s their social circle.”
Getting veterans the services they need was initially hard during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and has required fundraising events like Saturday’s chicken barbecue at Anderson’s Farm Market in Little York to help cover the costs.
The barbecue offered chicken or chicken dinners for sale with the proceeds going to Veteran Search and Rescue, of which Stitzel is commander and chaplain. The non-profit works with veterans to help them get the services they need.
Jennifer DeHart, a co-owner of Anderson’s Farm Market, said the sale was trying to promote the organization as it helps veterans get the services they need, such as mental health counseling or physical health needs.
Sucide prevention, especially, is a big focus of the organization.
“We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide and we want to stop that and this organization does that,” said DeHart, who is also Stitzel’s niece.
The statistic refers to a widely cited — though sometimes debated — Department of Veterans Affairs study. Also, A Journal of the American Medical Association study found veterans were 93% more likely to die of suicide than civilians, a rate that has increase since 2000.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of veterans groups like the VFW and DAV, veterans didn’t have a place to go where they could be checked on, Stitzel said. This led to more house-to-house check-ins to make sure they were all right.
The reopening of these facilities this summer made a difference in the veterans’ lives.
“It’s funny, too, because some of these older gentlemen were coming through with giddy smiles on their faces,” Stitzel said.
Money from the sale will help Vet SAR keep paying for the organization’s needs, most notably the van Stitzel uses to get veterans to appointments at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Syracuse or clinic in Freeville, he said. With winter coming, Stitzel said he’ll need to buy snow tires.
Those stopping by to get some chicken appreciated the cause as well as the meal.
“Supporting anything local is good and supporting anything with the military is great,” said Marlie Lawton of Tully.
“This is awesome,” Stitzel said. “I wish we could have this done every month.”