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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

Two Oaths

Monday, May 15th

Dear Friends:

I was planning on writing to you about the success of our portable food drive for veterans last Tuesday (pictured above) but last week turned out to be a bad week for our veterans. First, we learned that Congressional leaders propose to cut $30 billion of veteran services from the federal budget, which would gut VA healthcare for millions of veterans across the country. Second, closer to home, it was revealed in a news article that homeless veterans in Orange County were being displaced from the hotel where they were living, to make room for migrants sent there from New York City. As you might expect, there was no shortage of politicians quick to offer up sound-bites in response – as if pushing aside our veterans was something outrageously new, or something truly shocking.

Of course, for those of us within the veteran community who actually do the work of helping our heroes, none of this was very shocking. Demoralizing, yes, but not shocking. After all, we see our fellow veterans being forgotten and pushed aside every day.

All veterans took an oath when they first joined the military. It's more than mere words. It's the gateway to a life of service. I'll always remember taking my oath when I joined the Navy, in Brooklyn with fifty other strangers. I'll never forget the powerful energy in that room as we all raised our right hands. With every word I said out loud, I felt this oath to serve my country would inevitably change my life.

And boy, was I right.

For our veterans, there's no time limit on that sacred oath. It never expires. I think that's why so many veterans live a life of service long after their time in the military has ended. Here in the Hudson Valley, you'll always find veterans leading the way. We often say veterans have service in their DNA, but really it goes back to that day they raised their hand, took a deep breath, and recited their oath.

Later in life, I took a second oath when I joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to help all veterans in need. I was blessed to find an outlet for my passion for service to my community, and I still wake up every day asking myself, what I can do today to help veterans? As Commander of our VFW Post, I would always roll my eyes whenever politicians would show up while we were doing the real work of helping veterans, just to take a photograph. I guess that's part of the business of politics. It doesn't seem very honorable to me.

Listen, veterans should never be a photo op. Veterans should never be reduced to a talking point. Veterans are not a bargaining chip to be used in an upcoming election. They are brave men and women who took an oath to put their life on the line for their country, and they deserve our utmost respect. They don't deserve to be shoved into the spotlight for a brief moment, only to be forgotten until the next election rolls around.

When I walked across America in 2019 to raise awareness of veteran homelessness and mental health, my biggest surprise was finding out most people don't know how bad it is for our veterans out there. Most people I met were shocked to learn about the 22 veteran suicides in America every day. They were outraged to know about the 40,000 homeless veterans every night.

On a side note, I also think it's important to remember that migrants did not cause the housing crisis. Ironically, the housing crisis was caused by out-of-touch politicians and out-of-date housing regulations, along with several greedy landlords. We should not direct our anger at migrants who have been thrust into a bad situation, and we should not listen to those who wish to make their plight into political theater, just because there's an election coming up.

Unlike most politicians, I never have to make promises about veterans just to get your vote. I already took my oaths that propel me to help our heroes in any way I can, and I’m going to do that work whether I earn your vote or not. Those two oaths are worth much more to me than some campaign promise. And I'm proud to work alongside so many other veterans in the Hudson Valley who also hold true to the oaths they have taken, and wake up every single day thinking of ways to support our brothers and sisters in need. They do it because it's in their DNA to help their fellow veterans. They do it because they will never forget their oath.

I hope you will join our fight to make sure no veteran is forgotten ever again in Dutchess County. Together, we can do it.

Thanks for listening. See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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