Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste spoke at the VA Medical Center Saturday during the two-day veterans celebration this past weekend. The Daily News was there to cover the event. "The rest of the people of Batavia should be here," Batiste told the crowd of about 150 people. "We're in a war." Reporter Tom Rivers writes:
Batiste said the country has failed to mobilize, to rally its citizens, behind the war in Iraq, where 4,079 Americans have died since March 2003.
[He] called on the community to support the veterans and their families by insisting on speedy processing of vet claims, and fully-funded health care, including services for post traumatic stress disorder, which affects 30 percent of soldiers.
Batiste urged the Genesee County community to create a Veterans Outreach Center, similar to one in Rochester that links veterans to agencies for support.
The volunteer-run outreach centers can serve the veterans better than government, with its layers of bureaucracy, Batiste said.
When I read that, I thought of the Genesee County Veterans Service Agency, run by Hal Kreter. Hal's been especially busy these days as the liaison between the other area veterans groups, along with planning Memorial Day services. Nevertheless, he spared a few minutes to sit down with me about two weeks ago to tell me a bit about what the agency does for its local veterans. While it does not offer the more personal assistance a veteran could get from an outreach center, Hal stressed, the agency does help make the bureaucracy a little less intimidating.
"We handle the files," he says. "We file claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs for compensation and insurance... We're basically going over the benefits for veterans. An outreach center is a place where veterans can go and talk to people, associate with them."
I told Hal that Batavia already seemed to have many resources available to veterans to help ease the transition from military to civilian life and to engage them throughout their life back home: his own agency, the VA Medical Center (including its PTSD clinic), the American Legion, the VFW. True, he said, and all of those groups are "great at what they do," but an oureach center would provide that added service that veterans could really use, another place they could go to find people there for them, even if just to talk.