As young veterans return from Afghanistan and Iraq to Long Island, one local resident has seen them fall prey to depression, substance abuse and even homelessness.
Commack native and long time Kings Park resident Jackie DeLeonardis knows these problems all too well. She is the vice president of United Veterans Beacon House, a local non-profit started by Vietnam Veterans, that first opened its doors in Suffolk in 1994 and has since grown to twenty-four locations throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
“We started out to work specifically with homeless veterans; however, we now provide an array of services including job training, transportation to medical appointments, a food pantry, a thrift store and substance abuse counseling as well as treatment for PSTD,” said DeLeonardis.
As part of the Chase Giving project, Chase Manhattan Bank is doling out five million dollars to non-profits around the nation. Beacon House is one of the charities chosen for this year’s project and starting on Sept. 6, Chase Manhattan customers who bank online and Facebook users can cast up to two votes for eligible charities of their choice.
As an ardent veteran advocate, DeLeonardis is hoping Long Islanders will rally and vote for veterans because she says the needs of veterans are increasing every day and becoming more complex.
“There is a strong camaraderie in the military regardless of what branch a soldier belongs to and when they return home, the transition to civilian life can often be extremely difficult and sometimes Beacon House can be a bridge back to life” she said.
She explains that many of the young soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have an array of physical and emotional issues.
“They’ve given so much for our liberties, they don’t ask for much, they just want a place to live, food, employment, what all of us want,” said DeLeonardis, who was a guest on the Dr. Oz Show back in April, which profiled Beacon House and local women veterans.
Besides being a veteran advocate DeLeonardis is the proud wife of a veteran, her husband Larry served in the United State Marines. When many young American men were dreading the Vietnam draft, Larry enlisted at the age of seventeen. His twin brother and his father were also Marines and DeLeonardis’ nephew and her father were Navy men.
She is also proud of the fact that Beacon House provides services to almost two hundred Long Island veterans from all wars and conflicts overseas. Of the twenty-three housing locations, one is dedicated specifically to female veterans and one specifically for frail and elderly veterans.
“Our greatest wish at Beacon House is to be able to help more veterans, this grant would allow us to do just that,” she said.
If you are a Chase Manhattan customer you can vote for two different eligible charities between Sept. 6 and 19 on www.ChaseGiving.com. If you are a Facebook user cast your vote on the Chase Giving page. To learn more about United Veterans Beacons House or if you know of a veteran in crisis click on www.uvbh.com or call the main office in Bayshore at 631.665-1571.