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Vietnam Veterans of America: Honoring the Dead to Help the Living

I admit that I am a lucky guy because I was never drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Those that did serve deserve our respect and appreciation for protecting our nation and putting their lives at risk. Veterans sacrificed not only in serving our country but also in not having many of the opportunities some of us take for granted. I was privileged to chat recently with Gary Purcell, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 154 in Clinton Township, Michigan. Throughout our discussion, I grew more and more appreciative of what this chapter does for all military veterans and their families in Macomb County, Michigan. I came away from our discussion with a deep appreciation for all the wonderful and necessary programs that this chapter provides to members during a normal year.  We know that the COVID pandemic has harshly impacted all service minded organizations. I was impressed to learn that this community is entirely volunteer based and all food, monetary, and clothing donations go directly to veteran families that depend on the time and generosity provided by chapter members. Importantly, no veteran ever pays for any of the services available to them.

The numerous programs that the chapter offers veteran families were thrown into flux with the COVID shutdown, but several vital programs remain open and need our help to serve veterans in need. Chapter 154 maintains a food pantry in the Veterans Support Center that features 1,200 square feet of storage space for canned and dry goods and a walk-in refrigerator and freezer for cold items and meat storage. Speaking to Keith Edwards, co-chair of the food pantry and Chapter 154 board member, this is not your ordinary food pantry. Keith indicated that they provide veteran families up to 18 days of quality food or approximately 120 pounds of food per trip. This is more than the typical donation a family in need would receive at other area food banks.

Food pantry client procedures were changed during the pandemic to provide no-contact service. The veteran or family approaches the front window, calls the desk, shows identification and answers a few questions, then is directed to drive to the pick-up area at the side of the building and stay in their car. Prior to COVID, the pantry served 60 families per month. In March, they served 89 families and have stayed at that level for several months. The numbers have fallen recently  with stimulus checks available but they believe the need will increase again in coming months. In recent years, the chapter has helped some 840 veteran families a year keep food on the table.

This food bank and other services by the chapter

is entirely made possible by monetary and

food donations from me and you.

Remember, all donations go directly to veterans in need

and supplied  by Chapter 154 members.

The Chapter offers members the following services:

● Veteran Service Officers: filing and assisting with claims with the Veterans Administration 

● Honor Guard: assisting families with dignified and appropriate veteran funerals/burials 

● POW/MIA Initiative: assuring that our missing service members will be brought home 

● Speaker’s Bureau: bringing knowledge and truth about the Vietnam War to the young 

● Veteran’s Treatment Court: providing mentors to veterans caught in the court systems 

● Hospital Committee: ensuring that veterans in the VA Hospital are not forgotten 

● Michigan Vietnam Veteran Traveling Memorial: honoring our 2,654 Michigan KIA’s 

● Pointman Ministries: peer group reinforcement of the spiritual aspects of life 

● AA/Al-Anon: positive support for those struggling with substance abuse issues  ● Scholarship Program: assistance for graduating high-school seniors of our members

    The chapter managers work closely with the talented and good people at theMacomb County Veterans’ ServicesOffice. Gary and Keith appreciate that if member families need psychiatric healthcare, educational benefits for survivors and dependents, or assistance from the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, that they  will get help from the Veterans’ Services Office. The Trust Fund can assist veterans in need of help with things such as mortgage payments, medical bills, home repairs, and past due utility bills.Gary expressed in several remarks that if a veteran or veteran family member walks in the chapter door with a significant issue that needs attention, Gary, Keith, and the management group will do whatever it takes to help those members find the solution to their needs. 

       In closing, as a music enthusiast, I was pleased to read a heartfelt article by Joe Walsh, James Gang and Eagles rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter titled The BEATIFICATION OF JOE WALSH---HOW ONE OF ROCK AND ROLL’S MOST INFAMOUS WILDMEN BECAME PATRON SAINT OF VETERANS in the VVA Veteran Online magazine provided in full in the link.

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154 Veteran’s Support Center 

18025 E. 15 Mile Road 

Clinton Township, MI 48035 

Ph: 586-776-9810 

Food Pantry Hours: 10:30 am-3:30pm Monday through Friday 


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