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Batavia VA

Veteran at Batavia VA who survived German POW camp feted with 107th birthday party

By Howard B. Owens
Sep 2, 2021, 9:38am


Friends, family, and admirers gathered at the Batavia VA on Wednesday to join Sydney Cole, a World War II hero and former German POW, in celebration of his 107th birthday.

Cole served in the U.S. Army Air Corps among his honors for his military service he received the Air Medal, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a POW Medal.

Cole was a forward aerial observer for the 776th Field Artillery Battalion when his aircraft was hit by enemy fire and disabled. In an attempt to bail out from the plane, his co-pilot became entangled with his headset.  Cole helped his co-pilot parachute to safety but by the time Cole could then jump from the plane himself, he was already behind enemy lines. He was fired on by German troops and sustained multiple gunshot wounds.  

When Cole landed he remembered that his dog tags indicated his religion on them. Knowing that he would be sent to a concentration camp and likely killed if the Germans found out he was Jewish he threw his tags as far into the woods as possible.  

As a prisoner, Capt. Cole commanded 150 enlisted prisoners.  Despite his ill-treated wounds and diminished body weight of only 95 pounds, Cole was instrumental in maintaining high levels of discipline and morale among the enlisted men and served as an inspiration and an example of American military conduct while in enemy custody. 

He was assigned to a POW camp run by the Hitler Youth where many of the prisoners were killed.  He was interrogated, beaten, and locked in a cellar of rotten potatoes.  He was fed soup made of grass and potatoes and wasn’t allowed to shower or shave. 

For more on Cole's story, click here.

Photos by Alecia Kaus/Video News Service




Two patients at Batavia VA test positive for COVID-19

By Howard B. Owens
Jun 19, 2020, 11:43pm

Press release:

As of 2 p.m.

  • Genesee County received two new positive cases of COVID-19, for a total of 208 positive cases.
    • Two of the positive individuals reside in the Federal VA in Batavia.
    • One of the individuals is in their 60s and one of the individuals is in their 80s.
    • One of the previous community positive cases have recovered and have been released from mandatory isolation.
    • Zero of the total active cases are hospitalized.
  • Orleans County received one new positive case of COVID-19 today, for a total of 260 positive cases.
    • The new positive case resides in Murray.
    • The new positive case is under the age of 20 and was on mandatory quarantine prior to testing positive
    • One of the previous community positive cases have recovered and have been released from mandatory isolation.
    • Thirteen of the total active positive cases are hospitalized. Please note those in the hospital may be from the community or a state-regulated facility. We do not separate them out to protect their privacy.

Video: Alex's Place delivers meals to frontline workers at Batavia VA

By Howard B. Owens
Jun 6, 2020, 1:45pm
Video Sponsor

Alex's Place is participating in Stock the Freezer and WNY Feeds the Frontlines, delivering prepared frozen meals to front line workers and people in need.

This week, Alex's delivered 120 meals to the VA Hospital in Batavia.

Donors can purchase meals to purchase meals for frontline workers or people in need. Customers can also purchase meals for themselves.

To order, visit or

Florence Nightingale Award celebrates Batavia VA nurse for work during COVID-19

By Lauren Leone
May 23, 2020, 1:21pm

 June Haegele)

June Haegele, a longtime nurse for the VA Western New York Health Care System, received the Florence Nightingale Award on May 12 at the Batavia VA Community Living Center (CLC) for her dedication to keeping local veterans healthy amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“It's an honor to be working with the veterans at the VA,” Haegele said. “And it was quite a surprise and a very appreciated honor for the staff to actually recognize me in that way.”

The Batavia VA has reported two positive COVID-19 cases, and Genesee County has experienced more than 170 confirmed cases throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Because nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19, Haegele’s work to prevent disease transmission earned her this award for exceptional nurses.

Named after Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, this international honor is given to medical workers who reflect Nightingale’s achievements and legacy in infection and disease treatment. May 12 marked the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth and the final day of National Nurses Week 2020. Nightingale awards are intended to highlight local nurses like Haegele who positively represent the nursing profession. 

“2020 is considered the Year of the Nurse in medical communities,” said Terry McGuire, public affairs specialist for the VA Western New York Health Care System. “To honor that, they [the Batavia VA] came up with this particular award. June was recognized for helping out with controlling infection, especially during this COVID crisis that we find ourselves in.”

Haegele was named the first recipient of the Batavia CLC Florence Nightingale Award, which is a new recognition at the Batavia VA that is modeled after the worldwide Nightingale honor. The Batavia CLC Florence Nightingale Award is expected to be given annually to local nursing professionals.

Surrounded by nurse managers during the nursing supervisor’s morning report, Haegele was presented with a certificate of appreciation and a lamp, which is symbolic of how Nightingale was the “Lady with the Lamp” while taking care of her patients in the 1850s.

“They just told me to come down to the morning meeting, and they surprised me with an award because I've been actually working very hard lately,” Haegele said. “The staff have been very supportive, and we've been working great as a team getting through what we're currently going through.” 

Haegele, who is a lifelong Batavia resident and graduate of Batavia High School, has served at the Batavia VA Medical Center for more than three decades. With the support of VA scholarships, she earned higher-education nursing degrees at Genesee Community College and Keuka College.

Haegele specializes in occupational health and infection prevention. She has recently been making rounds at the Batavia CLC on an hourly basis researching, mentoring and presenting policy and procedures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In the beginning, especially, things were changing hour by hour, day by day,” Haegele said. “You had to constantly be researching for any changes so you could keep everyone aware of the current recommendations. And I spent a lot of time educating and supporting the staff and ensuring that we were doing the right thing based on what they [the CDC] were recommending.”

The rapidly changing conditions of the public health crisis have meant that Haegel spends an extensive amount of time adapting safe infection control practices to ensure local VA residents and staff are isolated from the disease. According to a VA newsletter about the award, Haegele has contributed to the zero mortality rate at the Batavia facility.

“The nurses are responding with a united front in that residents are safe and provided a continuation of outstanding nursing care and using maximum safeguards for infection prevention,” said Evange Conley, public affairs officer for the VA Western New York Health Care System, via email.

Haegele said that she is passionate about working with veterans and that it was meaningful to her to be the first recipient of the Batavia CLC Florence Nightingale Award. She said she thinks the award is beneficial for staff members at the Batavia VA because it boosts morale and acknowledges their perseverance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don't think any of us ever expected something like this to happen,” Haegele said. “It's been difficult to deal with this, but, on a very positive side, I just see a lot of great teamwork and collaboration. And it's stressful, but people are supporting each other. So it's really brought us together to do a good job based on the challenge that we're facing right now.”

Photo at top: June Haegele, left, received the first Batavia Community Living Center Florence Nightingale Award from Associate Chief Nurse Kathleen Padlick, right, on May 12 at the Batavia VA. Haegele earned the award for her hard work during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo credit: June Haegele)

ZAP!: 'Pulsed xenon disinfection robot' to be deployed at Batavia VA Medical Center to kill SARS-CoV-2 virus

By Billie Owens
May 19, 2020, 3:50pm

Press release:

VA Western New York Healthcare System is the first health care system in Western New York to use the pulsed xenon disinfection robot, the first and reportedly only ultraviolet (UV) disinfection technology proven to deactivate the actual SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2).

The disinfection robot destroys SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, in two minutes on surfaces and is a critical and necessary step to protect health care workers and patients in a quick and effective manner. 

Xenex Germ-Zapping Robots™ use a xenon lamp to generate bursts of high intensity, full germicidal spectrum UVC light that’s more intense than sunlight. This process used by the robots, quickly deactivate viruses, bacteria and spores where they are most vulnerable without damaging hospital materials or equipment.

The robots work quickly, allowing dozens of rooms to be disinfected per day per robot, supplementing other hospital disinfection methods. Published peer-reviewed studies also show a significant reduction in other infections such as Clostridium difficile (C. diff), MRSA, VRE and/or Surgical Site Infection (SSI) rates after integrating the robots along with other disinfection efforts.

Each robot costs approximately $100,000 made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, signed into law March 27, to protect America’s veterans.

VA Western New York Healthcare System currently has two robots with two additional robots on order.

A VA spokesman in Buffalo told The Batavian today that one of the robots will soon be deployed at the Batavia VA.

“Using the latest technology to combat the virus allows us to improve staff efficiency and disinfection effectiveness,” said Danielle Bergman, acting associate director. “Protecting patients and employees is paramount, especially during this challenging time.”

Operation Thanks From Above

By James Burns
May 16, 2020, 12:29pm


"Operation Flight From Above" flew over Batavia’s VA home and UMMC to thank healthcare providers for their effort during the COVID-19 crisis.

The flyover consisted of two World War II era planes. Geneseo’s National Warplane Museum’s  C-47 "Whiskey 7," which saw service over Normandy, France, and a locally owned P51 Mustang called "Mad Max."

After a rough start because of bad weather in the Southern Tier, the formation flew over only about 15 minutes late at 1,300 feet and 180 mph.  

The parking lots and sidewalks around UMCC were full of viewers who got a glimpse of the planes as they flew over during their salute. 


Next two photos below submitted by Frank Capuano.



Photo below by Bob Aiken.


Photos: Charity and care in the time of coronavirus

By Howard B. Owens
Apr 18, 2020, 11:19am


WNY Heroes, a veterans service organization, organized a donation of hundreds of meals to staff of the Veterans Hospital in Batavia and the NYS State Veterans Home yesterday.

Red Osier Landmark Restaurant delivered more than 150 prime rib sandwich lunch bags to the VA hospital and Pizza 151 delivered pizza to the vets home.

The Red Osier meals were donated by the restaurant and co-owner Steve Foster said the restaurant has now donated more than 300 meals to local organizations since the pandemic hit our community.

“The generosity of Red Osier combined with our organization is exactly what Western New York Heroes stands for,” said Western New York Heroes President Chris Kreiger. “We are and always have been here to support our veterans in our Western New York community and we do this day in and day out. Providing meals to our frontline medical workers who selflessly give their time to care for our veterans is the least we can do.”

After stopping at the VA, Foster and partner Tim Adams and Red Osier staff stopped the Genesee County Animal Shelter to drop off a donation of pet food, treats and toys.






To protect against COVID-19, access veterans' healthcare from home

By Billie Owens
Apr 1, 2020, 3:25pm

Press release:

VA Western New York Healthcare System is committed to providing high-quality care while keeping veterans safe from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Due to COVID-19 precautionary measures and out of concern for our veterans, we are honoring current social isolation and distancing guidelines,” said Michael J. Swartz, executive director, VA Western New York Healthcare System.

“Through VA’s virtual care tools, we are able to leverage available technology to make sure that our patients and staff are as safe as possible during this time.”

To help us address our Veterans’ most-urgent needs first, VA Western New York Healthcare System asks that Veterans use our online tools for routine or non-urgent questions.

Here are some examples:

Telephone or Video Appointments – Veterans can receive care at home — either over the phone or via video using VA Video Connect on their computers, smartphones, or tablets.

To set up telephone or video appointments, Veterans can send their provider a secure message on My HealtheVet by visiting Veterans may also call, but VA is requesting that veterans only call with urgent needs at this time.

To learn more about VA Video Connect, click here.

Prescription Refills – Veterans can request prescription refills and order and ship medications to their homes using My HealtheVet or the Rx Refill mobile app. Download the app at

Text Message Reminders – Veterans can use Annie’s Coronavirus Precautions protocol to send automated text messages with information about COVID-19.

This application helps Veterans monitor for symptoms and can assist if they need to contact their VA facility for care. Enroll at

Secure Messaging – With My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal, Veterans can send online secure messages to your VA health care team to ask them nonurgent health questions. Register at

For more information about VA’s Connected Care technologies, visit or

Special Forces retirees present $6,400 to PTSD Clinic in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens
Dec 10, 2018, 5:39pm


Today, the 3rd Battalion, 19th Special Forces presented $6,400 and the unit's “Holy Grail” cup to Dr. Caryn Dilandro, a PTSD Program psychologist at Batavia VAMC.

The 3rd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) once drilled as an Army National Guard Special Forces unit out of the Niagara Air Reserve Station. It later disbanded in 1975 as the Vietnam War was winding down. The special forces group recently raised $6,400 on Veterans Day specifically for the Jack. H. Wisby PTSD Center located at the VA WNY Healthcare Center in Batavia.    

Submitted photos and information.



Flag Day Ceremony is tomorrow at Batavia VA on Richmond Avenue

By Billie Owens
Jun 11, 2016, 11:38am

Although Flag Day is actually Tuesday, June 14, there will be a Flag Day Ceremony on Sunday, June 12, at the VA WNY Healthcare System, Batavia.

It starts at 1 p.m. with a prelude comprised of a motorcycle procession.

This will be followed by the Presentation of Colors by the Genesee County Joint Veterans Color Guard, and then the Invocation will be given by Chaplain Robert Chambers of the VA Chaplain Service.

Next, those assembled will say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mark J. Francis, volunteer program manager, will welcome participants and then Michael Mazutto will speak. Mazutto is a veteran of Afghanistan/Iraq and a recipient of the Purple Heart.

James Neider will speak on the Flag Day tradition. He is with the American Legion Genesee Veterans Club.

A Tribute to Veterans follows, provided by Batavia Middle School students and Assistant Principal Maureen Notoro.

St. Joe's Brass Ensemble will perform a musical salute and concert.

The ceremony ends with Chaplain Robert's benediction and the Retirement of Colors.

The public is welcome to attend. The VA medical center is located at 222 Richmond Ave. in the City of Batavia.

A veteran's story about why companion dogs are important at the PTSD clinic

By Howard B. Owens
May 27, 2016, 11:21am


Frank Grillo submitted these photos and story about the dog run being installed at the PTSD clinic at the Batavia VA.

I know how important the small things are.

I know when your scraping and clawing and fighting to regain your life that every advantage can mean the difference between life and death. 

When I came home I never slept. I watched out the windows, I patrolled my home. I gained over 100 pounds and began to fail at school and life. What brought me back? My dog.

Reba watched out the windows. Reba listened for sounds so I didn't have to. Her hearing was better; she constantly stared out the window and when I said "Reba, Whats That?" she would barrel from window to window on high alert. 

When I arrived at the PTSD clinic I was immediately greeted like a criminal. Breathalyzers and urinalysis as well as a search of my belongings. The windows would only open four inches because someone from Texas jumped out of his window and because it was early spring the heaters were still on bringing my room to a not so comfy 90+ degrees.

The program was being run by a woman who did not know how to balance what was best for the vet against the regulations.

This was a colossal mess but I did three tours in Iraq and I could handle all the above.

I lasted less than one day.


I didn't have my dog.

Fast forward three years. I've given up on almost all of my volunteering. Too many fake programs cashing in on veterans. 

I did keep on, however, keep up with the VA Veterans Advisors Council for two reasons:

  • because my friend Patrick brought me in;
  • and because I believe in the Director Brian Stiller, who is himself a Navy veteran. 

For almost a year we brought the fight to allow service dogs into the PTSD program and thanks to a language loophole and Brian's willingness to do the right thing, to act on principal FOR the veteran in spite of the ridiculous bureaucracy, and we prevailed. 

A veteran who found it too tough to stay in the program without his service dog eventually returned to Batavia to complete the program, and to his credit he pioneered the possibility of service dogs at the residential treatment program. 

Next we asked, "What can we do to make this permanent?" and Director Stiller responded, "We need a place to let the run off vest."

Immediately I reached out to my brothers at the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association Chapter 19-6 in Batavia.

We raised the funding and created the fenced-in pen you see in this picture. Yesterday, we returned to build a shelter where the combat veteran can sit in case he or she cannot stand. A place the veteran can relax out of the elements while his or her most loyal companion can run and play and unwind.

These dogs are easing the burden and saving the lives of veterans every day just as my Reba did for me. It is my privlidge and our chapter's honor to make that kind of advantage a possibility for our fellow combat veterans.

God bless America.



Trumpeter plays National Anthem every morning at VA to honor veterans, and his father

By Howard B. Owens
Jan 23, 2015, 6:17pm

A few of mornings ago, it was just a degree above zero. I wondered if Frank Panepento was really going to be outside by the giant old flag pole outside the Batavia VA Hospital, brass trumpet in hand, blowing out the National Anthem.

I heard he had been out to the VA every morning for the past several months, honoring the veterans and their caregivers with the Star Spangled Banner.

Panepento's tribute started over the summer, and except for missing a couple of days in August, he's been in a small parking lot near the illuminated flagpole every morning at 7, regardless of the rain, the wind, the cold or the snow.

"It's such a beautiful facility that does such beautiful things, every day, every single day," Panepento said. "I said, 'God give me the strength. Let me do this.' Once I did it one day, I said, 'why can't I do it two days?' Once I did it two days, 'why doesn't someone do it every day?' "

Panepento would like to see other horn players take up the cause, not just here, but throughout the nation.

Next month, he will need neck surgery, so he's been recruiting friends to fill in for him, as well as trying to work out something with Batavia High School to have students take turns with the patriotic wake-up call.

"If you're a horn player, why aren't you playing?" Panepento asked. "For me, if I see an opportunity to play, it doesn't get any better than this. It doesn't for me."

Panepento played for the St. Joe's Drum Corps when he was young, but then put his horn away in 1972. In 1991, he helped form the Mighty St. Joe's Alumni Corps and started playing again.

His father had passed by then. He died while a cancer patient at the VA hospital.

A few months before the elder Panepento's death, he told Frank he was determined to beat cancer. He wanted to go up to the VA and walk on the grounds.

The two men parked in the same parking lot where Panepento plays every morning now, got out of the car and started to walk.

They walked shoulder to shoulder for a few feet toward the flag pole, then Frank's father sagged and Frank caught him. They were still at least 15 feet from the large, white cement base of the standard.

"I'm praying, 'God, please give me the strength to hold him,' " Panepento said. "I couldn't go left. I couldn't go right. I didn't want to drop him. I was able to get him to the flagpole and lean him on that flagpole. I said, 'Are you OK, you OK?' I ran back to the car, praying, 'Oh, dear God, please don't let him fall.' I drove over there and I was able to get him car. That was the last time Dad was out. That is when he came to the stark realization (of) what cancer was doing to him and all the implications of what it meant."

Not long after, Panepento's mother passed while staying at the state veterans home on the same grounds.

Frank's father died at a time when Panepento wasn't playing. Father never heard son play the National Anthem. At the funeral, Frank couldn't play taps for his dad. These are lost opportunities Penepento regrets.

"We forget our veterans," Panepento said. "What do we do? We just remember on Veterans Day, or we just remember them on a particular day, or the caregivers who take care of our veterans. It should be something, it's something I need to do. So when I come here, it's like 'Hello Dad, hi, Ma. Thank you God. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to just be here and play.' I'm just grateful to be able to play for him today. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to do it for him then."

NOTE About the video: I've been out to the VA center four straight mornings at 7. The first morning, I went to the wrong location (didn't miss by much) and didn't see Frank. The next morning, the bitter cold caused technical issues with my camera. The following morning, operator error meant the video was out of focus. Today, video in focus, but wind ruined the sound. So, the video is yesterday's audio with this morning's video. Perhaps only a musician would notice it's slightly out of sync, but as a matter of full disclosure, that's the explanation.

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