HARRY veterans group commemorates Memorial Day with community

HARRY veterans group commemorates Memorial Day with community
May 28
00:00 2015

In photo above: HARRY Executive Director Ciat Shabazz (second from right) with veterans (left to right, standing) James Broadway, Woodrow Haney, Melvin Davis Jr. and (sitting) Ronald Ferguson. (Photo by Todd Luck)

Hundreds came out to commemorate Memorial Day at the HARRY Veteran Community Outreach Services’ seventh annual Commemoration and Picnic on Monday, May 25, at Bolton Park.

HARRY, a local group that offers numerous services to veterans, started honoring Memorial Day years ago with a picnic where the numerous veterans that volunteer with the group and their families would fill a shelter at a local park. It’s grown over the years to become a huge community event.

This year was expected to draw 600 attendees, who formed long lines wrapping around Bolton’s massive shelter, waiting to be served free food. Set up at the event where and Old School Radio Station 97.1 WQMG and the Rams Know HOW (Healthcare on Wheels), which was there providing free health checks. A stage hosted performances by the Work in Progress choir and music pumped through the speakers. Various officials kicked off the festivities including an invocation by Earline Parmon, a veteran and former state senator who is Rep. Alma Adams’ outreach director. State Sen. Paul Lowe, whose wife is a veteran; Mayor Pro Vivian Burke, whose late husband was a veteran and Mayor Allen Joines all spoke.

Joines said that the city has a goal to eliminate homelessness among veterans by 2016.

“I feel very confident that we’ll be able to announce before the end of the year that we’ve ended veterans’ homelessness in Forsyth County due to a lot of individuals, a lot of organizations that have supported us.”

The effort is part of the Zero: 2016 campaign being led by Community Solutions, a New York based nonprofit, with 69 communities across the nation taking part, including Greensboro. Locally the United Way, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Homes 4 Our Heroes and HARRY are among those helping veterans find services and permanent housing to get Winston-Salem closer to its goal.
Many of the veterans that are part of HARRY where on-hand helping with Monday’s activities.

HARRY Board Member Ret. Sgt. Alfonzo Boyd served 10 years in the Marines. He said it was a childhood dream of his to serve because his father was a Marine. Boyd, who fought in the first Gulf War, said transitioning from a structured military life back into a civilian one was challenging, especially with complications like post-traumatic stress disorder, which is very common among combat veterans. He said HARRY helped both him and his father get their VA benefits.

Another HARRY volunteer, Ret. Staff Sgt. Melvin Davis Jr. served six years in the Army, which included seeing combat in the Vietnam War. He said anyone who serves in combat never forgets the experience and he knew soldiers who lost their lives in the war.

“I can’t speak for them, but I feel if they were here, they’d tell you they’d done it for their country,” he said.
A purple heart recipient, he said that he had to enlist the aid of a congressman to get his VA claim started. He said he still experiences complications from those old war wounds and still has to fight for his VA benefits.

HARRY Founder and director Ciat Shabazz wore earrings adorned with a photo of her late brother Harry Smith, a veteran who died of colon cancer that was undiagnosed and untreated by the VA. It was his difficulties with the system led her to found HARRY. Though veterans still have a lot of requirements they must meet to get benefits, Shabazz was hopeful about change at the VA, which had a booth at Monday’s event where VA Winston-Salem Regional Office Director Cheryl Rawls spoke onstage.

“This director here is definitely interconnected with the veterans and trying to meet the needs of the veterans,” said Shabazz. “She has an open door policy, you can email her, you can talk to her.”

Rawls, who is an Army veteran, became head of the local VA office, which processes claims for North Carolina and other states, after it had made national headlines in 2012 when the sheer amount of backlogged paperwork appeared “to have the ability to compromise the integrity of the building” according to an inspector general report. There were 1,481 claims that were 2 years old when a massive initiative began to get those claims completed. By September 2014, Rawls told a veterans town hall meeting that the number of claims that were over 1 year old had been reduced by 94 percent.

On Monday evening, at 6 p.m. in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a more somber commemoration was held, as the name of every fallen service member in Forsyth County since World War I was read.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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