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New Nonprofit Echoes Mon Valley Tradition Of Helping Vets

 

By Michael P. Mauer

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Retired Marine Michael Lisovich, left, and Sue Watson of Veterans Helping Veterans. (Photo by Michael P. Mauer)

An evening of awareness, entertainment and fundraising will be on tap in Forge Urban Winery at 210 East 7th Avenue in Homestead, as several local musicians will join forces there at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, January 15, to help local veterans.   

Although no cover charge will be required, profits from the sale of food and beverages at the event will go to Veterans Helping Veterans (VHV).  Retired Marine Michael Lisovich, VHV founder, said he hopes the evening will assist the nonprofit with informing veterans that the adjustment to civilian life can be easier. 

Lisovich’s military career started in 1977 with training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA, and cumulated through the senior warrant officer ranks.  As a combat veteran who holds the Southwest Asia, Iraq and Afghanistan campaign medals gathered over 38 years of service, Lisovich said he takes the nonprofit’s work seriously.  And despite scores of other agencies that are reaching out to those who’ve served, the Marine felt more hands were needed. 

A tragedy that happens 20 times each day in America was the catalyst.

A few years ago during Memorial Day weekend following the news of a veteran’s suicide on social media, Lisovich decided to act.  Combining organizational efforts with longtime associate Sue Watson, he repurposed the old Nickelodeon theater used through his business – Wines of America – to create a safe meeting place for veterans at the corner of East 7th Avenue and Amity Street in Homestead, PA.

Complete with branch service flags and framed military photographs, the decorum Watson created reflects an atmosphere of a fraternal place for veterans to get together and talk in comfort.  There, veterans work through their problems, and reach out to other like-minded nonprofits and government agencies for assistance.

Charted as a nonprofit 501(c)3 in 2019, VHV has been actively helping veterans since June 2020.  Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has registered more than 80 veterans, logged 370 visits, and scheduled nearly four dozen outreach liaison meetings between veterans and veterans’ service officers, according to its newsletter.  

Included among the direct services VHV offers are round-trip bus tickets for former servicemembers to go to the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh Healthcare facilities in Pittsburgh and Aspinwall, meals, and laundry kits.  Veterans also are provided computer access, and help in navigating the myriad of services available to them.

Additionally, VHV is actively working to schedule visits on the first and third Thursday of each month from a Veterans Benefits Administration representative.  Veterans will be able to receive information about service-connected compensation, and get answers for individual questions from a government expert.

But it is not always strictly business at VHV.

“We have many veterans who come in just for the camaraderie,” said Watson.  “Rather than a crisis center, we are more like the United Service Organization with a kick.”

Watson explained that where other veterans’ organizations and government agencies require appointments, VHV has an open door policy during its scheduled hours.  Each veteran’s needs are individually assessed over an intake conversation and a cup of coffee.

Watson - the daughter of a World War II Marine veteran - emphasized that under a shared facilities agreement with Wines of America, the space in the old Nickelodeon theater where VHV operates should not be thought of as a bar or social club.  During the time when VHV is actively serving its clientele, no alcohol is served or available. 

Veterans organizations are nothing new in Allegheny County.  One of the oldest active ones – the Veterans of Foreign Wars -  approved its first constitution and bylaws more than a century ago at what is now the William Pitt Union building on the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.  Across the street on Fifth Avenue stands the large, majestic Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.  That building was built by Union veterans of the American Civil War who belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic.  

Like other veterans service organizations such as the VFW, the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans, VHV encourages servicemembers to support each other through friendship and mutual assistance.  It emphasizes camaraderie, connection, coffee and care as the four foundations it is built upon.  And as also with the more senior organizations, it works to connect veterans with help and resources.

Many of these government resources for veterans – such as free or low cost health care, disability benefits, pensions and employment preference – were won through the lobbying efforts of veterans service organizations.  According to United States Census data, more than 70,000 of the veterans living in Allegheny County are eligible for some or all of these benefits, depending on their service record or need.

Watson said VHV made it through its first year of operation on a budget of $2,600.  The director estimates that it’ll take roughly ten times that amount to keep the nonprofit’s doors open.  

For more information about the event, contact Sue Watson at: 412-326-1959

(Michael P. Mauer served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm.  He was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war, and is a life member of VFW Post 914 Intrepid, West Mifflin.)

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