Sunday, October 06, 2019
Vets Make a Better Role Model, Dept. Commander Says
“Young people look up to veterans.”
That’s something New York State American Legion Commander Michael McDermott says he discovered in his travels around the state.
Speaking at a testimonial dinner in Rome Oct. 4, McDermott encouraged Legion Posts to hold or sponsor more activities for youth and families. It’s something he remembers fondly participating in as a kid himself.
The 130 attendees erupted into cheers and applause when he went on to say:
“Isn’t it a lot better to have a veteran as a role model than a football player who refuses to stand up for the national anthem?”
A Navy combat vet who served with U.S. Marines in Vietnam, McDermott was joined by the Legion’s other state-level, or Department of New York, leaders – Department Auxiliary President Linda Tome and Sons of the American Legion Detachment Commander Dennis George.
They were making a swing through Herkimer and Oneida counties to bring messages of support for veterans and families. Oneida County Legion Commander Jim George welcomed them, and earlier in the day, escorted the trio, along with a contingent of Legion Family members, on a tour of Sitrin Healthcare’s Military Rehabilitation Program.
McDermott said he was impressed by the alternative therapies that Sitrin offers for veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The equine-assisted program, he said, “is amazing.” Sitrin partners with Spirit Dogs Farm in Frankfort, which, like Sitrin, helps veterans for free. Vets bond with Spanish mustangs, instinctively learning calming behavior.
A mustang taught Air Force vet Walter “Jerry” Reid III gentle body language, which, Reid said, helped him with his relationships with others, including his two-year-old son, Daniel.
The boy accompanied Reid to meet the Legion members. Jackie Warmuth, a multi-certified therapist who heads the military rehab program, quickly made Daniel feel a welcomed part of the briefing.
By the time it was over, the two-year-old was chatting it up with McDermott.
During his dinner talk, McDermott noted that the equine-assisted program was particularly appealing to him because one of his special projects for his year as department commander involves another animal-assisted program called America’s VetDogs. He recounted how he met a wheelchair-bound vet in a park who had a service dog with an “America’s VetDogs” badge. The vet, who suffered from PTSD, demonstrated what the dog could do. He dropped his cell phone on the ground, and asked the dog to retrieve it. The dog picked it up in his mouth and brought it him, McDermott said. “He can do the same thing if I drop a pen or a credit card,” the vet told McDermott. “But the best thing is that when I’m having flashbacks, the dog senses it and puts his paws on my chest, and everything is okay again.”
With the Department of Defense announcing an upsurge in suicides among service personnel and veterans, Department Auxiliary President Linda Tome spoke of her special project, “Stop Soldier Suicides,” a not-for-profit that aims to make it easy to link vets with programs and therapies to prevent suicides.
“Sons” Detachment Commander Dennis George, who received a rousing welcome as a native son from Oneida County’s Oriskany, pointed to the countless volunteer hours put in by members of the Legion, Auxiliary and Sons – valued at tens of millions of dollars. Pointing to his theme as commander, George told the dinner audience, “You Are the Key” to recruiting members to grow the Legion’s support for veterans and families.