IRONDEQUOIT – Robert Fink has been spending his retirement
years standing up for veterans' benefits.
"My desire is to see that any
veteran who wishes to use the Veterans Administration system
is eligible to do so, and will not be turned away," Fink
said, 80. "I believe in the troops and that somebody
shouldn't take advantage of somebody else."
Recently, veterans care has come
under intense fire for conditions and red tape at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center. Those conditions included soldiers
returning from Iraq living in sub-standard rooms with holes
in the walls.
There is also an ongoing fight to
keep Canandaigua's Veterans Administration hospital open.
"No one can spin this veterans'
issue right now ... Veterans are just not being respected,"
said Chris Hollfelder of Gates.
Fink is a founder of Veterans to
Veterans Connection, a group that is led by friend Gene
Simes of Walworth. Fink has been getting some help from high
places in recent months, and his effort is gaining momentum.
First, Sea Breeze neighbor Dale
Dowling, a retired sheet metal worker, got involved. Then he
brought in Hollfelder, who is president of the Sheet Metal
Workers' International Association, Local Union No. 46.
For about four months now, the
veterans and the union have been working together to lobby
for legislation that would require mandatory funding for
veterans' health care services, including dental and mental
"It sounds so simple, but the
veterans have been ignored for too long," Hollfelder said.
Dowling said the cause should be
under "everybody's umbrella," and they're trying to make
"It seems to me that if we can
afford to send troops, we can afford to take care of them
when they come home," Dowling said.
Here, the tiny band of veterans and
union people has been getting its message out by asking
politicians, municipalities and community, state and
national leaders to sign a resolution of support.
The resolution essentially resolves
that the U.S. Congress should pass legislation that
guarantees full, mandatory funding of health care services
One of their biggest successes to
date was to have the resolution signed last week by U.S.
Sen. Charles Schumer, during his stop at the Veterans
Administration hospital in Canandaigua.
The resolution was also signed in
February by the Irondequoit Town Board. Fink and Dowling,
longtime Irondequoit residents, and Hollfelder then stopped
by the board's March meeting to present a certificate of
appreciation. At the same meeting, they also presented a
flag and other mementos to Gary Pawlak, who recently
returned to Irondequoit after a year-long deployment to
"They're very active and
politically motivated to help veterans and fight the cuts,"
said Irondequoit Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman. "And what the
resolution does is really draw attention to their cause.
They're really trying to be the face of the faceless
She refers to things like the
potential closing of veteran centers, like that in
"It's getting so veterans have
nowhere to go but private hospitals," Hollfelder said,
adding that he, Fink and Dowling believe they can be better
treated at facilities geared specifically to veterans.
Hollfelder said if enough leaders
representing enough people sign the resolution, there will
be a "critical number of voices that will empower our
elected officials to take the steps necessary" to pass
They even now have a name for their
initiative. A key mission of what is being called the
Veterans to Veterans Connection's Operation Firing for
Effect is "to draw public awareness and media attention to
serious problems facing our former military personnel and
Their issue is as simple as calling
for mandatory funding for veterans' medical services,
Hollfelder said. "The detail of legislation (which they hope
Congress will eventually pass) is up to them ... We're just
They're gaining an increasingly
"I think this is an important
issue," said attorney and County Legislator Edward "Ted"
O'Brien, D-Irondequoit, who has been doing some writing for
the group. "It's too easy to forget the reality of what
veterans have had to sacrifice ... No matter what side of
the war (in Iraq) you're on, taking care of veterans is a
different issue – and one I think we can all agree on."
Ultimately, the group would like to
see mandatory funding for veterans' health care on all 2008
ballots nationwide, Hollfelder said.
What separates them from other
veterans' organizations, Dowling said, is that they "cater
to no one," get no grant funding from the government and are
"We're a renegade group," Dowling
added with a smile. "And we're all volunteer – there's no
payroll – but we're committed because it's the right thing
To learn more about Veterans to
Veterans Connection and its Operation Firing For Effect
initiative, go to Web site OFFE2008.org (or .net or .com).