October 18, 2021

Battling through COVID

Veterans groups work to stay socially connected

Jamie L. Costa/staff reporter

Community members and veterans line up for a chicken barbecue outside of the Disabled American Veterans of Cortland headquarters on Saturday.

The Disabled American Veterans chapter in Cortland hosted an in-person chicken barbecue on Saturday at their headquarters off Owego Street to encourage social interaction for their veterans and raise money for their vans.

The barbecue was the second in-person event the chapter hosted amid the pandemic and the turnout raised close to $1,400, said Rich Woodrome, the organization’s junior vice commander. Event money goes toward vans that assist veterans with transportation to doctors’ appointments and other services.

“We were constantly having events before COVID,” said the veterans group’s chaplain, Norm Stitzel. “It’s picked up and we’re able to do a lot more.”

The pandemic forced veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses into isolation, Stitzel said. As events are coming back, veterans are returning to the DAV and spirits are higher, he said.

A Journal of the American Medical Association study found veterans were 93% more likely to die of commit suicide than civilians, a rate that increased in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“It’s not just vets,” Stitzel said. “It’s elderly vets that are used to going to the VFW, the legion and the DAV all in one day.”

Over the last year, funds were slim and the vans didn’t run a lot, Stitzel said. Events like Saturday’s generate funding to help make sure veterans are taken care of; including meal plans, transportation and social visits.

Jamie L. Costa/staff reporter

Wayne Schutt and David Tobias of Cortland barbecued and dressed chicken halves for the Disabled American Veterans of Cortland chapter on Saturday.

“We are up to where we were before COVID,” Woodrome said. “We’re doing better and people are more supportive now that things are opening again.”

Of the estimated 500 members within the DAV, 275 of them are active and communicate regularly with Woodrome, he said. If regulars aren’t seen for a few days, staff will do “friend checks” to make sure their members are doing well.

The event started at 11:30 a.m. and there were more than 15 people lined up between cars and picnic tables by noon, waiting for their barbecued chicken halves.

“People know they’re going to get a friendly greeting here,” Woodrome said. “We encourage guests to join and we are open to the community.”