Help for Veterans Available at Port Murray Armory
Stoy and photos by G.. Natasha Zoe, Veterans Information Officer
One of the rooms of the Washington Armory is a place of honor, help and even some hugs. The two ladies who brighten the drab surroundings with their sunny smiles are Monica Banca and Lisa Szymanski.
Banca is a Veterans Service Officer and Szymanski is her assistant. Together they have helped more than 4,000 Warren and Hunterdon County veterans during the last 17 years. The Port Murray Armory office is one of 19 Veteran Service Offices operated by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
The bulk of their work is assisting veterans with the maze of forms and paperwork involved in VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) Claims. They will fill out the forms, research medical records, and represent the veteran through the claim and any appeals.
Meeting with veterans in their Washington Armory office or in the veteran’s home, the ladies complete about 20 claims a month with a better than 90 percent success rate. “My heart is in it, I’ll fight for them to the bitter end,” Banca said fiercely.
There are many benefits available to veterans from healthcare to pensions to burials.
Many veterans don’t know about VA compensation pensions for Korean War veterans for cold weather injuries and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder); for Vietnam War veterans for diabetes, certain cancers and PTSD; and for World War II veterans for PTSD. For wartime veterans with annual income less than $12,000, there is also a low-income pension. “PTSD – in World War I it was called shell shock, and battle fatigue in The Second War. It was ignored during Korea and referred to as PTSD after Vietnam,” Szymanski described. “There is little to no counseling when leaving the military.”
“It is not just getting help, it is also the recognition of the problem,” described Jim King, a Vietnam veteran of Blairstown. King originally met with Banca in 1998. “She put me in touch with someone who helped me. Now my life is back on track. [I live] in a positive manner not negative.”
It is not just the veterans who suffer. “Our poor wives and children stuck with us through all the garbage,” King said. “Now I don’t fight with my wife.”
“One of my earliest memories is of my father, a World War II vet' jumping out of a window yelling Geranimo!’ PTSD becomes a whole family problem!” Banca said.
“Shouldn’t we be able to stop fighting someday?” asks Larry Hardy, a Mountain Lake resident. Hardy has prostate cancer, diabetes and PTSD all a result of his service in Vietnam.
"Veterans do not know they are entitled to any benefits or which benefits and the whole process is confusing," described King. "They [Banca and Szymanski] helped us though the process."
“Some veterans don’t think they are entitled to anything because they were not in Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange,” described Nick Juliano of Belvedere . Juliano was part of the SHAD Program and Operation Dominick [chemical and biological weapons vulnerability- testing program chemical warfare completed on American service members by the U.S. government during the Vietnam War.] Juliano now has cancer of the tongue, throat and lungs.
The Shipboard Hazard and Defense program, according to the Department of Defense, was a subset of Project 112, a chemical and biological weapons vulnerability-testing program conducted by the Deseret Test Center from 1963 to 1969. The tests consisted of joint exercises involving the Army’s Deseret Test Center, several Army and Navy vessels and Marine Corps and Air Force aircraft.
“Freedom is not cheap and democracy IS worth fighting for; these men are our heroes. We can never know the price they pay for our freedom,” said Szymanski.
Monica Banca, the Veterans Service Officer, and Lisa Szymanski, her assistant, can be reached at 908-689- 5840 or 689-5845. Their office is at 550 Route 57 (the Washington Armory) in Port Murray.