(In the spirit of full disclosure, O’Kane’s photographs are used in this paper and other publications throughout the city. He is a friend as well as a member of the Queens journalistic community.)
O’Kane felt, upon meeting the Vietnam Veterans of America, that they differed from other groups serving veterans in that they focused more on the well being of veterans in need. “It struck me that at their meetings there was no bar because it was all about veterans,” says O’Kane.
What stood out to O’Kane was the leadership of fellow veteran Pat Toro, a Forest Hills resident who also lived in Narrowsburg, New York. Toro was a leader among the approximately 6,000 members in New York and close to 60,000 nationwide.
Toro passed away last week after losing his fight with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood-related medical condition. He caught an infection that was too difficult to fight off with his immune system so stressed from the disease.
What people should take away from Toro’s work with his fellow veterans is that he (and his fellow members) focused their organization on quality-of-life issues for veterans. Many veterans’ groups do this as well, but they also serve as social organizations.
Toro and the Vietnam Veterans of America were concerned with housing, PTSD issues, and outreach. The problems Vietnam veterans experienced were a little different from those of previous wars, and this organization is designed around those differences.
Another important part of Pat Toro’s work was his focus on getting veterans who died in poverty proper burials. Toro will be laid to rest in Calverton National Cemetery, a resting place for veterans where some of my family members are buried as well.
Toro worked to give fellow veterans that same final honor, which is not a mission many people have taken on in the past. Those few people who take on certain invisible issues within other issues, such as finding a respectable resting place for a fellow soldier, are giants among us. This is why we celebrate Independence Day – because people like this allow us to.
Rest in peace, Pat Toro.
For those who may be veterans and are in need of anything, such as counseling or life issues, the Vietnam Veterans of America’s website is www.vva.org. Even if you are not in need, you might want to consider helping.
Budget Hopes Set Adrift
The Rockaway ferry looks as though it will be one of those things we talk about bringing back, and never really do. That is what happened with the Rockaway Long Island Rail Road line. Talking about bringing back a useful mode of transportation is a winner with voters, but then there is reality. Reality is different.
Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder is part of an effort to study the possibility of bringing back the old LIRR line. The notion of adding more transportation in Queens, and bolstering a few jobs along the way, will get no opposition in this column. But people have always come back to the same problem: the cost would be too much.
There may be a public policy solution to this, but it still sounds like an expensive undertaking. Unfortunately, there was not enough money to help fund the Rockaway ferry service, an idea that could have been a big plus for residents in that part of Queens.
In the meantime, there may be a way to make commuters from far away Rockaway (and far off Bronx County) a little happier. The monthly Metrocard is still one of the best deals in town, despite its price tag.
Some cities use proportional rates with transportation. For example, Washington, D.C., charges you depending on how far you ride. In New York City, we have a flat rate. Maybe residents who have those extra-grueling commutes – sans a ferry or high speed rail – could pay a little less for their monthly card.
The monthly Metrocard is basically for people heading to work or students. They are not going to milk the system. They sit on those trains longer than some of us. Maybe we cannot pay for a ferry, but we might be able to pay for a slight discount...if we’re out of ideas.