WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Each year, Wounded Veterans Relief Fund helps disabled veterans across our state who are still dealing with battles on American soil from housing costs to emergency car repairs.
Disabled U.S. Army veteran Demond Thomas is a single father who welcomes being preoccupied with two jobs — he’s still haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past.
“I recall days I couldn’t pay my rent,” Thomas said, “I only had one job and I was getting behind on rent.”
His post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) an unhealed scar from the Iraq War was also taking a toll on him.
”I actually lost seven battle buddies over there,” he said.
And Thomas also had no vehicle.
”I was taking buses back and forth and it was just a nightmare,” he said.
In 2017, Thomas called Wounded Veterans Relief Fund to escape the bad dream. The nonprofit gave him this truck in 2019, but there are others like him and his needs.
“Everything adds up,” said Alanna Leon, Wounded Veterans Relief Fund senior case manager. “When we pay their car payment that means they can still go to interviews. No matter how much or how little you decide to give every dollar is extremely crucial to what we work towards. Some of these veterans are completely disabled and can’t work. Some people are choosing between feeding themselves and keeping their water on. Monetarily it could just be a tank of gas to you — but it’s food for them.”
Leon handles referrals coming in from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the state. 70-percent of the funds allocated by the nonprofit goes to basic living expenses. Wounded Veterans Relief Fund provides housing assistance, utility assistance, and financial help with emergency vehicle repairs and payments. Helping veterans like Mary Deloris Montgomery, a U.S. Army veteran, and retiree who lives in Jacksonville and suffers from a brain tumor.
”I have more bad days than good days,” Montgomery said. “I previously had my dream job — but I suffer from severe migraines headaches, I also can’t deal with lights and sound. So I had no choice but to quit. And now because I’m not able to work I’m doing little odd jobs in my range and for the first time I reached out to the fund to pay my rent and utilities and they were paid. And I didn’t have to jump through hoops.”
Mike Durkee is executive director of the Wounded Veterans Relief Fund. An organization run by veterans unsatisfied with the number of veterans in survival mode.
“Especially now during COVID-19, unfortunately, the suicide rate has gone up 20-percent amongst our veteran population,” Durkee said. ”There’s more veterans faced with evictions. And faced with foreclosure.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Chelberg is the fund’s board of directors president. He’s zeroed in on the issues facing today’s veterans and now collaborates with agencies like Career Source in Palm Beach County.
”They have earned the right for us to help them because they have done things that many people have not,” Chelberg said.
Veterans like Thomas is now gainfully employed and has aspirations to one day start his dream job in nursing.
”Finding a job is actually more than helping with the rent. It’s finding a life,” said Julia Dattolo, Career Source Palm Beach County interim president and CEO.
There are plenty more veterans like Thomas who need help rebounding. Every year, the Wounded Veterans Relief Fund’s largest fundraiser is the annual ball — the telethon in collaboration with WPTV will hopefully help assist the deficit. You can make a donation to the Wounded Veterans Relief Fund telethon by calling 561-273-1144. The phone lines will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.