On Tuesday, Oct 10, 2023, Past Rotary District Governor Dr. D. Michael Hart spoke to the Rotary Club of Caldwell about joining a program the Westfield Rotary Club has been running for 5 years. The program is designed to help homeless military veterans. It was started by Westfield Rotarian Burim Regjaj.
18 American military veterans commit suicide every day. That’s 6,570 suicides per year. More than four times as many than we lost in all the wars since September 11th, 2001.  In that time period, the US has lost 7,057 soldiers in wars; but 30,177 to soldier suicides.
Dr. Hart feels that as a society we have an obligation to take care of our veterans whose health has been damaged by their service. These men and women put their lives at risk to protect our freedom. More than that, they put their health at risk, and now may be damaged mentally with PTSD.
Rotary International President Gordon McInally has made addressing mental health a priority for Rotary Clubs this year.
Veterans who are damaged with PTSD may turn to drugs and/or alcohol, lose their jobs, then their house, their family, and everything, until they hit rock bottom. The VA Hospital will dry them out, help them recover, provide counselling, provide help with designing a resume. The Hospital provides the veterans with a bed and meals for 90 days, but then they are either moved to low-cost long-term housing, or just put out of the hospital.
Right now, there are 71 veterans living at the Lyons VA Hospital, including 6 women, and another 161 veterans living at Valley Brook Village next door. The latter is basically a dormitory with low- cost, long -term housing.
 Since the hospital does not provide the veterans with clothing or toiletries, Rotary fills the gap. The most requested item is socks. Rotary provides underwear, socks, long underwear, T shirts, boots, winter coats, hats, gloves, scarves, razors, shaving cream, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and a rugged duffle bag to keep everything in.
An important part of the project is to talk to the veterans as we are giving out the supplies, to let them know that someone cares about them, and thank them for their service.
The consortium of Rotary clubs purchases the supplies and clothing from a charity on Long Island which gets the materials wholesale.
In December, we host a Holiday party for both the Hospital and Vally Brook, and give out wrapped gift boxes which include hats, gloves and scarves. High School students wrap the presents, and elementary school students make holiday cards. 
This is such a wonderful project that the Westfield Rotary Club has been joined by five other clubs: Hillsborough; Somerset Hills (previously Bernardsville); Madison; Morristown; & Watchung. We pool our funds in the Rotary District Foundation.
The Rotary Club of Westfield meets the first three Tuesdays of each month for lunch at noon, at Limani Seafood Grill on North Ave. Guests are always welcome. For information check out the website www.westfieldrotary.com  or contact club secretary Dr. D. Michael Hart by email at drmhart@yahoo.com
Photo: Left to right: Caldwell Rotary Club President Matthew Mangino; Past District Governor Dr. D. Michael Hart; Rotarians Ash Parikh, and Larry Wefferling.