This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 12 to correct the spelling of the last names of state Rep. Mary Morrissey of Bennington and State's Attorney Erica Marthage.
BENNINGTON — With American flags waving in the background, representatives of the Vermont Veterans' Home and local leaders gathered Thursday to introduce two new programs that they hope will bring more visitors to veterans.
One program, the adopt-a-veteran program that encourages people to visit the veterans, send them cards and letters and let them know they're not forgotten, is open to anybody with time to share.
The other plan will engage the criminal justice system to encourage the courts when ordering community service to consider offering people the chance to spend some time visiting with the veterans as part of their sentence.
CEO Melissa Jackson said the adopt-a-veteran program would give the veterans the attention they deserve.
"It's invaluable," Jackson said. "Our veterans sometimes feel like they've been forgotten. The greatest gift we can give our veterans is our time."
Jackson said the veterans don't complain about not receiving visitors but she said they love receiving mail.
She pointed out that in the military, mail call is one of the most anticipated parts of the day and that sticks with them.
"A letter saying, `I remember you and thank you for your service,' goes a long way," Jackson said.
The two new programs are the culmination of a year's worth of effort by Rupert resident Garry DuFour, who said the ideas came to him after a conversation with Col. Al Faxon, chief operating officer of the Veterans' Home, about a year ago.
DuFour recounted the conversation in which Faxon told him about veterans who do not receive visitors, mail or connection to the outside world. He said he couldn't sleep for two nights, lying awake and thinking about that conversation and those veterans who had given so much for their country that are now being ignored.
"Our veterans came home disabled from defending our country," DuFour said. "No one visits them."
Local politicians, including state Reps. Chris Bates, Mary Morrissey and Cynthia Browning, were there to show support.
Faxon said residents at the home include veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the cold war, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Desert Shield and Desert Storm and Afghanistan. Among them, he said, are tank commanders, B17 pilots and crew, a B29 crew, a Marine from Iwo Jima, a member of Patton's 3rd Army, and many others.
In listing many of the residents, he said it was important to know "the treasures we have living here."
Faxon pointed out that the Vermont Veterans' Home has veterans living there from throughout the state, which means for many veterans their family may live hours away.
He said the staff is like their family, but this program has the opportunity to expand their circle and brighten their day.
He said greeting cards, postcards and letters won't just be read when they arrive, they'll be hung on the wall and shared with other residents.
But the restorative justice program has the chance to benefit more than just the veterans at the home.
Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage said this program would also help the people who might be sent by the system and could really benefit from the interaction.
"I think this person could really benefit from having a conversation with someone who has fought for our country and having that interaction is really important to them as well," Marthage said. "And I hope that we can encourage more people to become involved with things that are happening at the Vets' home because there really are a bunch of great people here."
Marthage said she has worked with Kim Phillips of the Center for Restorative Justice on this program.
Phillips said it's a great idea and she's happy to be part of it. She agrees with Marthage the program could have benefits not only for the veterans but for those she works with at the CRJ.
Phillips said that often, with the people she works with, it's not about punishment when someone finds themselves involved in the court system but in helping them to see themselves in a more positive light and getting them back into society where they can be productive.
"We want the community to see them do them something good," Phillips said. "It's not about what they did. We want people to see that they can do good things as well, and kind of bring them back into the fold, bring them back to to a good place where they feel comfortable in the community again."
Phillips said the program would choose the individuals carefully.
Not only would they be fully vetted, but they'd want the people to be someone who is particularly empathetic, sympathetic, who is a good listener, and someone with patience.
Jackson said anybody who wants to participate in the program and adopt a vet, should contact the home or stop by. There is an application to fill out and a background check to be conducted followed by some education.
Contact Darren Marcy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at 802-681-6534.