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Dan Hust | Democrat

THE ROOM IN the Gov’t. Center in Monticello where the County Legislature’s various committees normally meet was reserved for the just-birthed Sullivan County Veterans Coalition on Thursday, and representatives of veterans’ groups from throughout the county gathered to determine how to proceed. District 8 Legislator and Veterans Committee Chair Ron Hiatt, right, informally led the meeting, which also included, from the left, Veterans Service Agency Assistant Director John Bridges, Rich Kaiser (who has had experience with similar coalitions), Frank Bair of the Marine Corps League (at the end of the table), Ken Morgan of the Mamakating VFW, Al Etkin of the local Jewish War Veterans, County American Legion Commander Frank Gallagher and County Amvets Commander Chuck Buchholz.

County Veterans' Coalition Getting Ready to Deploy

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — January 1, 2008 — Thursday marked the beginning of a new force within local veterans’ ranks.
At least that’s the hope and goal – the Sullivan County Veterans Coalition will need support from every corner of the county to survive.
“Everybody has to contribute to this, because if everybody doesn’t, it’s going to fall apart,” advised Rich Kaiser, a Sullivan County resident who was involved in similar coalitions in Westchester and Rockland counties.
A past NYS commander of the American Legion, Kaiser was asked to be at Thursday’s inaugural meeting of the Sullivan County Veterans Coalition to give the group of veterans and legislators tips on how to begin.
What they started inside the Legislative Committee Room at the Government Center in Monticello that day was an effort “to unite veterans’ organizations… and to aid and support veterans’ causes as approved by the board of directors, and other such actions as, in the judgment of the directors, will best promote the purpose of the corporation” – language culled from the Orange County Veterans Coalition incorporation papers.
Sullivan County’s version is being incorporated through the efforts of County Legislature Veterans Committee Chair Ron Hiatt, an attorney who’s using his connections to secure a lawyer who will do the work pro bono. (Kaiser himself promised to loan the $250 needed to file the paperwork.)
Officers and the coalition’s exact structure will likely be worked out at the next meeting, scheduled to be held at noon in the same location after the Veterans Committee meeting on February 7.
The idea behind the coalition is to bring all of Sullivan County’s 10,000 documented veterans (and all the undocumented ones as well) together to work on projects and initiatives that benefit all of them, supplementing (not replacing) the efforts already ongoing in local posts and county government.
Present for Thursday’s unofficial meeting (the name of the coalition was actually chosen during the proceedings) were Veterans Service Agency Director Eric Nystrom, Assistant Director John Bridges, County Amvets Commander Chuck Buchholz, County American Legion Commander Frank Gallagher, Al Etkin of the Jewish War Veterans, Ken Morgan and Joe Mahoney of the Mamakating post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Frank Bair of the Marine Corps League, and local veterans Sandy Garzon, Johnny Nielsen, Dan Casteel and Legislady Leni Binder.
They listened intently as Kaiser detailed some of the activities of neighboring coalitions, including a “non-partisan Veteran of the Year Award” ceremony and a political action committee – “not for a candidate,” advised Kaiser, “but for our ideas.”
Those present, however, added their own voices to the process, envisioning creating a home for homeless vets, steering younger veterans returning from overseas battles to local social and support groups, aiding in the funding of the maintenance needs and a columbarium at the county veterans cemetery in Liberty, instituting a Website, and advocating for local veterans’ concerns at both a county and state level.
“The #1 thing is to take care of our veterans,” agreed Kaiser.
That said, attendees acknowledged it won’t be easy to convince everyone that this coalition is necessary and valuable.
“In the beginning, you’re going to have a few bumps and bruises,” said Kaiser. “A few people are going to have their noses out of joint.”
But, added Buchholz, veterans need to understand that existing posts and other veterans organizations will not be dominated or supplanted by this coalition, which will be advisory in nature (save for any events it puts on itself).
“We’re not a veterans group,” Buchholz said. “We’re a group of veterans.”

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