Veterans

Sen. Chuck Schumer with Jerry Chiano's family surround a photo at the Long Island Veteran's home in Stony Brook Dec. 20.

Before Vietnam vet Jerry Chiano of Valley Stream died in 2017 after battling a rare form of bile duct cancer, he fought to raise awareness by urging Vietnam vets to get tested for liver fluke exposure. The tiny worm, found in Southeast Asia, can be transmitted to humans after they eat raw or uncooked fish. The parasite lives in the biliary system and is the known cause of bile duct cancer. 

“It’s such a crazy disease,” said Chiano’s daughter, Jennifer Paglino. “My father wanted other people to know about it, so they’d get the treatment and benefits they deserve.” 

Chiano’s awareness campaign garnered the support of researchers at the Northport VA Medical Center, who concluded that same year in a pilot study that one in four local Vietnam vets who ate raw or uncooked fish while deployed were exposed to the parasite. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sounded alarms in late December, stating the study remains largely unused. He’s urging the VA to look seriously at the issue and Northport VA’s work, noting that benefit claims for the disease have increased sixfold since 2003, while 80 percent of the claims submitted in 2015 have been denied.

The VA is conducting the Vietnam Era Veterans Mortality Study, a national effort that will look at data from everyone who served in the military during the Vietnam era, from Feb. 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975, and compare mortality rates for all ailments, including bile duct cancer. Results for that study are pending. 

The agency did not say if that study would dictate whether or not bile duct cancer is considered a service-related disease. 

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) said he hopes the VA’s new large-scale research mission “will pave the way for infected veterans to receive the treatment they have earned.”

Schumer is demanding that the Northport research be used. 

He noted that the situation raises questions about the VA process for acknowledging service-related illnesses and how its researchers use the statistically based science of epidemiology, which links exposure to disease. 

The VA website clearly states that liver fluke exposure can cause bile duct cancer. Yet, a VA spokesperson said in an email that the Northport research is flawed, while discounting the risks. 

“The VA is not aware of any studies that show that bile duct cancer occurs more often in U.S. Vietnam veterans than in any other group of people,” he stated. 

Schumer pointed out how the VA initially found in 2009 limited evidence to suggest that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War caused Parkinson’s disease. Months later, it reversed its decision and added the disease to the list of covered conditions connected to exposure to herbicide agents. 

Schumer and the entire Long Island congressional delegation — Zeldin, Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3), Peter King (R-NY-2) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-4) — have urged the VA to study the issue. 

“Local vets, some of whom are already sick, need reassurance that these studies lead to answers on service-related health claims, while others have passed away while fighting for awareness and VA testing,” Schumer stated. 

As the VA embarks on another large-scale research mission on toxins and environmental exposure, Schumer underscores the importance of using the Northport data. 

“We have samples, antigen markers and more; there’s good stuff here from this smaller study, but it is largely sitting on a shelf, as we are here today to say: use what’s useful,” he said. 

However, the VA bluntly states: “No future VA studies will utilize data from the Northport VA Medical Center’s pilot Liver Fluke study …” 

In an email, the VA spokesperson explained that the Northport VA liver fluke study relied on a test used in Asia, where the disease is prevalent, which is not FDA approved. It also noted, among other things, that the Northport VA study lacked control groups. Plus, he said, none of the patients who tested positive for liver fluke exposure actually suffer from bile duct cancer. 

Gerald Wiggins a Vietnam vet from Port Jefferson Station took part in the Northport VA liver fluke study and was one of 12 veterans found to have been exposed to the parasite. He does not have bile duct cancer, but he said he had two bile duct cysts removed in September 2017 at Sloan Kettering. 

The disease, he said, is a ticking time bomb. He can’t understand why the government isn’t supporting veterans. At 71 years old, he said it’s late for him. But he believes every veteran who served in Southeast Asia and areas prone to the parasite should be tested. 

“Ten people came down with Zika virus in Florida and within two weeks the federal government gave $600 million to fight it,” he said. “As a vet, I laid my life on the line and got nothing.” 

He submitted a VA claim, which he said was denied. His other insurance picked up the tab.

George Psvedos, an infectious disease specialist and a Northport VA physician, conducted the study. The Northport VA was unsuccessful in gaining clearance for an interview from the VA. But, as noted in his research conclusion statement, his study was the first to show evidence of exposure to liver fluke in U.S. soldiers deployed in Vietnam. He called for more research to examine the link between a Vietnam exposure and the likelihood of veterans developing bile duct cancer.  

Currently, no validated test for liver fluke infection is available for clinical use in the United States, according to the VA website. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending serological testing for exposure, the VA said. 

The Northport VA said that if veterans express concerns or symptoms of bile duct cancer, the VA screens them right away. 

Meanwhile, the prognosis for bile duct cancer is poor, with a 30 percent five-year survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Jerry Chiano stands in front of an American flag dangling his dog tags.

As for Chiano, he ultimately died of an esophageal bleed, his daughter said, caused by throat cancer induced by exposure to Agent Orange.

“He thought he was going to die of bile duct cancer,” said Paglino. “We thought [his dying of Agent Orange exposure] was his way of making sure that my mother received VA benefits after he died.”

Survival benefits for veteran’s families are extended when a veteran’s disease is considered service related. Veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for VA-provided cancer care, the agency said. 

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” said VA spokesperson Susan Carter.

Suozzi is also still following the issue.

“At minimum, we owe Vietnam veterans answers on whether they were exposed to cancer-causing parasites while serving, and the Northport VA’s study nearly two years ago was an important step in confirming that,” he said. “This data could prove instrumental in ensuring affected veterans are taken care of nationwide. I strongly urge the Veterans Administration to include this important study in their future research or, at least explain in detail why they will not.” 

Photos from Jennifer Paglino

Nonprofit Accepts Grant Funds for Postage Costs

Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) talks with Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore while Greg Thompson, right, and Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino, back, work to pack boxes for Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino watched with awe last week as women older than he worked like machines on an assembly line and prepared care packages for troops as part of a volunteer group called Operation Veronica that works out of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point. 

Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino helps pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sorrentino serves in the Air National Guard as a technical sergeant out of the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton and has routinely flown military aircraft in state and federal missions, supported space shuttle launches, flown in rescue missions with hurricanes Irma and Maria and was sent to Djibouti, Africa, during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. Still, he couldn’t help but be impressed by the group’s energy.

“It’s really efficient,” Sorrentino said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of getting care packages, and it’s awesome — its greatly appreciated.”

Multiple members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr (D), visited Operation Veronica during its regular Friday meeting a few days after Veterans Day. Members of the department helped put together boxes of care packages, which can include snacks, toiletries or other personalized items that can give a little bit of comfort to men and women stationed overseas.

Nearly every Friday since 2005, close to 20 women spend several hours putting together care packages to send to troops stationed overseas. 

Janet Godfrey, a Wading River resident and founder of the group, explained to their visitors how they pack boxes under a certain weight to avoid excess postage fees. Volunteers also showed the sheriff’s department staff how they create survival bracelets out of 550 paracord, the same rope used for paratroopers during World War II, and polar fleece sweaters for soldiers out in deserts that may become freezing at night. 

Greg Thompson, a deputy sheriff who is currently a reservist machinery technician for the U.S. Coast Guard, was also impressed at the skill and attentiveness of the women at Operation Veronica.

“I think this is amazing, absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Toulon called the group extremely efficient in, “not only just the assembly line, but the coordination of the organization, and really it’s just the effort — to say to these vets we’re thinking about them, we’re caring for them and we’re praying for them.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon assists pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

He expects the sheriff’s department to collaborate with Operation Veronica in the near future, by either donating goods or assisting in getting the boxes shipped abroad. 

In 2018 TBR News Media recognized Operation Veronica as one the newspaper’s People of the Year. Since then, Godfrey said the group has picked up steam and is still managing to send out hundreds of items week after week.

“We are busier than ever,” Godfrey said.

Funding is always difficult, especially in the shipping department, though the women of Operation Veronica often donate their time and buy their own goods to go in the boxes, as shipping can be upward of $70 for a heavier box.

“The women in this room come in to work, they do everything out of their own pockets,” she said. “They have passed the hat to pay postage at the end of the day.”

Godfrey had some good news, though. She said the Port Jefferson-based Richard & Mary Morrison Foundation has agreed to pay for the costs of shipping, which the Operation Veronica founder said can be as high as $10,000 to $12,000 a year. 

“They have promised to pay our postage however high it goes,” she added. 

For more information about Operation Veronica, visit www.operationveronica.org/.

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Rocky Point natives Gerard and Diane Hahn are honored along with three other siblings for service in the armed forces. Fifty other veterans were honored on the high school Veterans Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Rocky Point, it’s hard to find a family without at least one armed service veteran as a family member.

As the Rocky Point High School band played out military tunes during a Nov. 15 assembly honoring vets, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore read off each branch of the armed service based on the music playing. Veterans and their families stood up, but it wasn’t just the visitors, students stood up as well. For both the men in service caps to the kids in T-shirts and jeans, service to country runs deep.

People take pictures and point to names of family members on Rocky Point HS Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s a testament to the number of veterans and veteran families in Rocky Point that this year the district added 50 additional names to the high school’s Wall of Honor, which was constructed last year with just under 60 names of veterans who were from Rocky Point or graduated from the district.

Social studies teacher Rich Acritelli was the major driving force between the wall and its update. He sunk considerable time and resources into fundraising and getting the updated plaques on the wall, working alongside fellow teachers, administrators and the school’s Varsity Club.

“In less than two years, the entire main hallway of the social studies wing will be full of people from the armed forces who sat in the same chairs, played in the same gym and fields, performed in school plays, band and chorus as you do,” Acritelli said to the assembled students. “These are people who played on the same blocks as you did.”

Some families had more than one person in the armed services. The Hahn family, all Rocky Point natives, had five siblings whose pictures now hang up on the wall. Gerard and Diane Hahn flew back home to their roots to accept the honor on behalf of their family.

“Our reason for entering the armed forces was different for each of us,” Gerard Hahn said, who after high school had joined the Air Force as a munitions specialist. 

“For various reasons and in different branches of the service, we wanted to serve our country,” he said. “Regardless of which branch, we were all proud of our service and our combined over 40 years in the military.”

Diane Hahn, Gerard’s sister joined the Army after she graduated in 1982. She said she joined the military, already having an interest in computers, spending five years in active duty and six as a reservist in data. She now works as a government contractor with her own IT company in Washington, D.C.

The brother of Gregory Brons, a veteran who graduated Rocky Point in 1996 and studied physics from Syracuse University, said his brother joined the U.S. Army in the signal corps both at home and overseas. He moved to southern California to work in defense research and has become an activist for the LGBTQ community.

Greg Hotzoglou honors his brother Taylor, a veteran who died trying to stop an armed robbery. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He is a champion for the freedoms we live under,” he said.

This year’s updated wall also included the names of faculty, some who served and some whose families had been in the armed forces. Jerry Luglio, athletic trainer, came to the podium to calls of “Jerry,” by students. He served in the U.S. Submarine Corps during the Cold War. Anthony Szymanski, a business teacher at the high school, died in 2014 but was remembered for his service to both the school and U.S. Army.

Many veterans whose pictures hang on the wall in Rocky Point High School have given much, but some have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Taylor Hotzoglou was honored by his brother, Greg, who said the young man joined up and served in the 101st Airborne Division in 2007 and had been fearless in his wanting to protect his fellow soldiers, often volunteering for the gunner’s seat in Humvees, known to be the most targeted and dangerous position a soldier could take in a vehicle. Hotzoglou died when he returned to the U.S., as he tried to stop an armed robbery while outside of Fort Campbell Army Base in Tennessee.

“His attitude was, if it’s not me, then somebody else is going to have to go over there and suffer,” Greg Hotzoglou said. “He said, you know what, it should be me, I should go.”

Dennis Sullivan blows a bugle at the 2011 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Centereach VFW post. File photo by Brittany Wait

Veterans Day events across Long Island have inspired children to sing, bands to play, politicians to speak and servicemen to march in parades.

Many Long Islanders came out to exhibit unwavering support for veterans on this national holiday. But with so many veterans facing hardships, such as food insecurities, joblessness, homelessness and health issues — some service-related — more needs to be done each and every day.

There are many ways our readers can help the men and women of the armed forces long after Veterans Day is over. Long Island organizations are always looking for help, year-round, whether it’s donating time, money, clothing or gently used items.

Here are a few groups, where you might lend a hand: 

• Long Island Cares Inc. — The Harry Chapin Food Bank: This Hauppauge-based center has been helping veterans, military personnel and their families since 2010. According to the nonprofit, more than 1,200 veterans per month typically receive support from its regional food bank through many of their programs. Long Island Cares will provide 500 veterans with holiday meals this year. The food bank is able to do this in part thanks to an $11,000 donation expected from Steven Castleton, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. Long Island Cares also offers the Veterans Mobile Outreach Unit, the VetsWork program and Military Appreciation Tuesdays where all Long Islanders can help by donating food items or money.

• United Veterans Beacon House: Headquartered in Bay Shore, this organization provides housing throughout Long Island for veterans. According to its website, on any given day more than 255 men, women and children throughout the tristate area have received services ranging from help with homelessness to treating PTSD, addiction and more. The organization can always use coats, gently used clothing and furniture.

• Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University: Located on SBU’s west campus, interested people can help out by assisting the home’s residents during their recreation programs and trips, or simply by sitting and talking with the men and women.

• Northport VA Medical Center: The VA presents opportunities where community members can volunteer or donate their time or money. A cash donation can be used by the VA to buy items for patients including hygiene products and refreshment supplies. The hospital also collects items such as magazines, coffee, and new or gently used clothing.

Some veterans are doing well, but sometimes they could use a little company. Many people at the senior centers and retirement homes would welcome a visit, so they can share a story, or have someone even record it for future generations.

Long Island has the highest concentration of vets in New York state. These men and women are our neighbors. Make some time to find a vet in your community.

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Rocky Point hosts a Veterans Day Event Nov. 11. Photo by Kyle Barr
Rocky Point hosts a Veterans Day Event Nov. 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Following nearly a month of going to different schools in the area prior to Veterans Day, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 held its annual ceremony Nov. 11 honoring those who’ve served, both those that are here and those no longer with us. They were joined by Rocky Point Boy Scout Troop 244.

“Veterans Day means much more than a federal holiday,” said post Commander Joe Cognitore. “It’s to make sure the men and women receive what they need.”

Greenlawn Memorial Park will host a Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 11.

November 11 marks the annual observance of Veterans Day, a day on which we honor the millions of brave men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. The following towns on the North Shore will pay their respects:

 

Greenlawn

Join the American Legion Post 1244 for a Veterans Day Ceremony at Greenlawn Memorial Park, 107 Broadway, Greenlawn on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. The ceremony will be attended by many veterans, government officials and members of the public. Call 516-458-7881.

Huntington

The public is invited to join Town of Huntington officials, the Veterans Advisory Board and local officials for a Veterans Day Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. on Veterans Plaza in front of Huntington Town Hall, 100 Main St., Huntington. Call 631-351-3012.

Kings Park

A Veterans Day Parade will be held in Kings Park on Monday, Nov. 11. Kick off is at RJO Intermediated School, 99 Old Dock Road, Kings Park at 10:15 a.m. and ends at Veterans Plaza in front of the Kings Park Library and 1 Church St. Hosted by VFW Post 5796. Call 631-663-3092 for more information.

Mount Sinai

Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai invites the community to walk down the Parade of American Flags along the Avenue of the Americas on Monday, Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 100 National, state, territory and local flags will be displayed exhibiting the growth of our nation. Walking between these flags and reading about our history will lift your spirits, promote pride in our country and remember those who have served our nation. Free. Inclement weather cancels. Call 631-509-0882.

Rocky Point

VFW Post 6249, 109 King Road, Rocky Point invites the community to a Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Light refreshments will be served. Call 631-744-9106 for further details.

Setauket

VFW Post 3054 holds a Veterans Day Ceremony at Setauket Veterans Memorial Park, Route 25A, Setauket (next to Se-Port Deli) on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. All are welcome. Call 631-751-5541.

Sound Beach

The Sound Beach Civic Association invites all to its annual Veterans Day services at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park on New York Avenue (across from the Sound Beach post office) in Sound Beach on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. For further information, call 631-922-3773.

Pictured from left, Chris Graf, Michael Bernstein and Gloria Rocchio (holding original sketch of Memorial Rock) and Judy Greiman

In 1946 Ward Melville designated a plot of land on Main Street, right beyond the Stony Brook Village Center, to honor veterans of foreign wars.  

Michael Bernstein, Interim President, Stony Brook University; Judy Greiman, senior VP, government and community relations/chief deputy to the president at Stony Brook University; Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization; and Chris Graf, owner of Stonegate Landscape recently met at the site to review the results of recent efforts to refurbish the area in preparation for Veterans Day.

 The area has been renovated several times over the years and recently needed additional work.  Graf stepped up to take care of this project, gratis, installing another boulder and new plantings, updating the area to the state it was in when first created in 1946. WMHO, along with Stony Brook University, partnered together and paid for an additional plaque as well as a bluestone marker.

Photos from WMHO

*This article has been updated to reflect Michael Bernstein’s new title.

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Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station vets have shown dedication to a local institution for just over 100 years.

The American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 held its 100th Anniversary Dinner/Dance at the Port Jefferson Moose Lodge Sept. 14. Local veterans and members of the lodge celebrated the centennial achievement alongside residents and local elected officials. 

The post was named after the late Cpl. Irving Wilson Ritch Jr., who made the ultimate sacrifice Sept. 6, 1918, on the Vesle River during the Oise-Aisne campaign during World War I. On Sept. 1, 1919, 15 of the original members came together to form the post, which was formally chartered Sept. 16 that year.

Their first meetings were held at the Port Jefferson Hook and Ladder House on Jones Street, presided over by A.C. Fiske, who was the post’s first commander and president.

Later, meetings were held at the local YMCA, the Port Jefferson court room, the K. of C. rooms and the rooms over the Port Jefferson Free Library. The group has now been meeting out of its new formal headquarters located at 1450 Hallock Ave. in Port Jefferson Station.

Since its start the post has been very active in the Port Jefferson Station and surrounding communities: attending and participating in various activities, ceremonies and events such as the annual wreath laying ceremonies on Memorial Day and other remembrance ceremonies on Veterans Day. Recently, the group has been working alongside other local vet groups and with Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) raising funds to revitalize local veteran memorials.

Members of the post said they look forward to serving and celebrating in local communities for another 100 years. 

Information provided by post historian Richard Knutson.

VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore salutes those soldiers lost through the years along with other veterans. Photo by Kyle Barr

A local town official is asking people to donate their unused phones for veterans.

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) is teaming up with Cell Phones For Soldiers, a national nonprofit dedicated to providing cost-free communication services and emergency funding to active-duty military members and veterans. Donations of devices allow the organization to fund its three programs, which include:

Minutes That Matter: Domestic air time that provides domestic wireless minutes and phones to veterans, military personal and military family members

Minutes That Matter: International calling cards that provide free calling cards to troops overseas to help connect to loved ones.

Helping Heroes Homes: Assists veterans with emergency funds to alleviate communication challenges, as well as physical, emotional and assimilation hardships.

“Our military men and women take extended time away from their families to ensure our safety,” Bonner said. “It is an honor to work with Cell Phones For Soldiers to provide them with a connection to their loved ones while they are serving and protecting our country.”

The drive will take place from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Residents can donate their cell phones at these four Brookhaven town locations:

Highway Department, 1140 Old Town Road, Coram

Rose Caracappa Senior Center, Route 25A in Mount Sinai

Henrietta Acampora Recreation Center, 39 Montauk Highway, Blue Point

Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill in Farmingville

For further information, call  631-451-6964.

22 veterans kayaked across Long Island Sound to help promote PTSD awareness. Photos by Kyle Barr

August 30 was a day about numbers.

Twenty-two kayakers in 11 boats. Twenty-two miles from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson. 

22 veterans kayaked across Long Island Sound to help promote PTSD awareness. Photos by Kyle Barr

On each of their minds, the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide each day, and the many thousands more both veterans and others who suffer from PTSD.

In the final days of summer, the 22 veterans left Bridgeport at just after 10 a.m. and arrived in Port Jefferson at just before 5 p.m. As the fourth year of the event, called the 22-PTSD Awareness Challenge, those veterans have a long way to travel, having to turn their boats in a slight parabola to make it the full 22 miles. 

Frank Lombardi, one of the co-founders of the event and a veteran himself, said the event is extremely poignant just by the number. Veterans Affairs averages the number of soldiers and veterans who commit suicide at approximately 20 a day.

“Twenty-two veterans make the 22-mile trek, and that’s the magic number,” he said. 

22-PTSD Awareness Challenge was started in 2016 with Lombardi, fellow veteran Chris Levi and Alex Rohman, an executive of the Port Jefferson Station-based financial advisors Time Capital. That business, plus three others, helped get the first event up and running. At first, the three co-founders were the only ones to cross. Since then the number of veterans taking the challenge has only increased.

“I found that if I can get veterans to help other veterans, that’s the best way to help them,” said Rohman. “A lot of organizations compete for veterans, in a way, and we wanted to open this up to as many nonprofits as we can, so a veteran can walk in and see a multitude of services that can help.

On their arrival in Port Jefferson, the Port Jeff Village Center was crammed full of a number of veterans services initiatives for them to peruse. PSEG Long Island, while not sponsoring the event, aided the initiative through its community partnership program by providing volunteers. Eight of the kayakers were also employees of PSEG Long Island. 

22 veterans kayaked across Long Island Sound to help promote PTSD awareness. Photos by Kyle Barr

Two tables were for Independent Group Home Living Program, of which Lombardi is CEO. The money, Lombardi said, is going to Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk County, a subsidiary of IGHL that provides therapy services for veterans, among its other services for those experiencing family violence and rape. The first year of the event raised $60,000 to start a treatment program at VIBS, hiring a treatment specialist. While the amount they annually raise has gone down to around $15,000 per event, the IGHL CEO said the event now focuses more on outreach and getting veterans in touch with the services that can help them.

The veterans who kayaked said the Sound was relatively easy on the swell, though that didn’t stop the wind from picking up at the opposite direction once they neared Port Jefferson Harbor. The kayaks they rode in used pedals instead of oars, though the trek wasn’t any less tiring for it, with veterans of several different ages participating.

Friends and fellow veterans Martino Cascio, of Huntington, and Dennis Stringer, of New Hampshire, laughed as they described Cascio flipping their boat to dunk Stringer in the water.

Still, the two, who together completed several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a refrain running through their heads. Both have known fellow veterans who suffer from PTSD and others who took their own lives.

“I personally had a couple soldiers I was in a unit with take their own lives,” Stringer said. “It’s definitely affected me personally.”

Bayshore veteran Donna Zephrine has completed the kayak crossing several times. Having done two deployments in Iraq and having seen many of her compatriots from the army days suffer from PTSD, a few taking their own lives, she said the event truly helps gather veterans from all over into a single place where they might find life-saving services.

22 veterans kayaked across Long Island Sound to help promote PTSD awareness. Photos by Kyle Barr

“I try to do it in remembrance of them, and all the brothers and sisters who are still struggling, and all those suffering from PTSD,” she said. 

Mattituck veteran Tom Gross has done the event three years in a row. He served in the U.S. Army from 1984 through 1986 in the 82nd Airborne. 

“Twenty-two vets a day commit suicide, that’s over 8,000 a year, that’s unacceptable,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood, I didn’t understand how much of a brotherhood it was 30 years ago when I was in it, and when I raised my right hand how far that would carry for the rest of my life.”