By Nick Duffy
PAULSBORO, NJ — Outside of the George D. Patton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 678 lies patchy, unkempt grass, and a war memorial adorned with a decayed wreath of lifeless leaves and faded ribbons.
The green and white building in the poverty-riddled Paulsboro is an unfortunate microcosm of the American veteran’s struggle.
“If we don’t get more money to this place we won’t be here much longer,” said Dan Tillberg, a retired member of the Marine Corps, and member of the VFW.
Post 678 is a perishing VFW post neglected by anyone outside of the local military folks. If no attention is turned to it soon, its demise becomes inevitable.
Inside the post — which is named after Private Patton, Paulsboro’s first casualty of World War II — Tillberg is the only soul occupying the cramped space other than a short woman named Mary. She’s the chef, bartender and do-it-all employee that enables the post to operate.
As Tillberg rips off a seething tirade of the government’s mishandling of war veterans, Mary tends to taco meat on the stove, and chimes in with an occasional “here, here” without looking up from stirring the beef.
“The [Department of Veterans Affairs] is a horrible thing,” Tillberg said. “I have friends that have had to deal with it. There’s no support for them, you get back and you wait months and months.”
Tillberg served from 1975-79 and never saw live combat, so he never needed a visit to the VA, but he’s witnessed secondhand the carelessness the government-run organization has doled out to its patients.
He said when a friend of his returned from Iraq a few years ago he came home from the war suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, yet struggled to find quality treatment for his affliction.
“He wasn’t able to get any help, they just bounced him around from place to place,” Tillberg said.
While VFW posts aren’t able to necessarily provide the proper medical resources for ailing veterans, they are able to provide the sense of camaraderie that is sometimes absent upon a veteran’s return home.
Unfortunately, though, posts are shutting down across the nation.
A quick internet search reveals numerous shutdowns. Posts from New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida are being hit with closings, all of them mainly because of underfunding.
It is a disheartening reality, because for so many of the veterans involved with their VFW it has become somewhat of a support spot for them.
“This is my home,” Tillberg said.
In President Obama’s eight years of leadership, treatment of veterans was widely questioned by those affected by it. They felt a certain level of disrespect Tillberg says, but there is a bastion of hope in the form of a new Commander in Chief.
President Donald Trump laid out large scale spending cutbacks in his newest budget proposal with government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency seeing a drastic hit, but one of the few programs who will see an increase is the Veterans Affairs. A six percent increase, according to the Washington Times.
But, until Trump makes tangible improvements to the Veterans Affairs, the neglect of the men and women who have served the country continues, and just as the Patton Post 678 sees dwindling attention, so do the veterans.