State grant will fund new veteran peer support program in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 May 2018 at 9:26 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Earl Schmidt, director of the veterans Service Agency in Orleans County, discusses the new veteran peer-to-peer support program on Wednesday with county legislators.

ALBION – A state grant will fund a new veteran peer-to-peer support program in Orleans County.

The county has accepted a grant for $52,500 from the State Senate, annual funding for the next two years with a chance for renewing the program after that, said Earl Schmidt, director of the Veterans Service Agency in Orleans County.

Rather than add paid personnel to run the program, Schmidt wants to have the program be volunteer-driven so the grant funds can go for their intended purpose of funding activities and programs for veterans.

Schmidt said the peer support program will function in a similar way as the medical van service run by the Joint Veterans Council. With that program a team of volunteers makes sure there are volunteer drivers to take veterans to appointments.

Schmidt’s wife, Catherine, will be the unpaid leader of the Orleans County PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Program. The effort is supported by the county’s Department of Mental Health and the Veterans Service Agency.

‘The program draws its inspiration from the camaraderie that comes from a shared experience of life in the military,” Earl Schmidt told county legislators on Wednesday.

Orleans is the 23rd county out of 62 in New York to receive state funding for the program, which is focused on assisting veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.

“The goals of the program include helping returning veterans adjust to civilian life, pursue outreach and education, to provide peer support, encourage a connection among family, friends and the community,” he said.

The outreach and support should reduce isolation and suicides for veterans, Schmidt said.

Mrs. Schmidt will serve as volunteer coordinator of the Dwyer program. She is a Blue Star mother with a child in active duty and a past Blue Star wife. She is a past president of Army Family Support.

Other members of the committee organizing the program include: Lori Grube, a Blue Star mother who worked as a county dispatcher and is now secretary of the Emergency Management Office; Frank Panczyszyn, a Vietnam War veteran and volunteer driver for veterans for their medical appointments; Tracey Panczyszyn, a volunteer with the medical van service; and Nancy Traxler, a veterans service officer for the county, a combat veteran and a Blue Star mother and wife.

Mr. Schmidt said additional committee members will be added. He expects the service will begin in September.

“The volunteers in the community have really stepped up to take care of the veterans,” he said.

Mrs. Schmidt said the activities to connect veterans will include many coffee hours and picnics. They may go kayaking or do other activities. She wants to keep the program within the county, which has the added benefit of supporting local businesses.

“There will be many social events in a non-clinical environment,” she said. “It will be used for veterans and their families.”

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