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Port Orchard VFW seeks new home

It is a Bay Street fixture. But if officials at Fred Needham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2669 have their way, the organization will move out of downtown Port Orchard for the first time since it was established in 1932.

The impetus behind that, Commander John Weatherill said, is simple. Imagine elders navigating stairs in a tri-level house. Weatherill said veterans face a similar scenario when they have dinners at the Port Orchard facility. The regulars, who are as old as 94, have to take their meals downstairs to the dining area.

But that is not the only consideration behind a move. Weatherill said post leaders are looking at two spaces near downtown on Mile Hill Drive and Bethel Avenue that are one story and feature about 5,000-square feet. That would place a dining area with offices on the same level. At the current location, the offices are on the third level. Post 2669 has a service officer on location once a week to work with veterans suffering from a myriad of issues, such as a variety of cancers, which purportedly have been linked through numerous studies to the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides on trees and vegetation during that time.

Jesse Carillo, who served in the Navy from 1985-95, is one of those officer’s with a computer set up at the VFW to assist veterans with getting the claims process started to receive treatment. He said that often takes one year or longer, but frequently sees veterans walk through the door with skin blotches and other ongoing issues.

“Sometimes people just procrastinate,” he said.

Other times, Carillo said they want to active old claims or simply do not know what to do. That is why he and others set up at VFWs to answer questions and assist with paperwork. Carillo said the paperwork then is sent to the Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle.

Weatherill said a new facility would enable the VFW to have a service officer on location five days per week.

“Everybody thinks the Veterans of Foreign Wars is a bunch of drunks,” Weatherill said. “We do a lot. People just don’t realize that.”

That work creates crowds. On Valentine’s Day, Weatherill said Post 2669 served 75 dinners. Based on feedback, he thinks those numbers could increase in a new location.

“Our biggest issue is we have no parking when we have a function down here,” he said. “It hurts me to walk any more than a block.”

While Weatherill would like to move soon, he said that won’t happen until the building that has housed Post 2669 since 1956 is sold. Weatherill said the property, which was listed for sale in 2012, has generated some interest but no offers.

If the property can sell for $300,000, Weatherill said that would be used as a down payment on a new facility, which he estimates will cost $800,000 and require another $200,000 in renovations. Post 2669 officials also are working on a federal grant that would help fund a kitchen and dining area and an emergency feeding station.

“If we had a disaster they can come to the VFW and we have meals for three days,” he said.

Weatherill said another component of that grant would fund emergency cots for the homeless during cold-weather season. He estimates that could provide shelter for 60 people a night.

The thought of constructing a new VFW might seem absurd in some areas. But George “Corky” Berthiaume, who is the VFW office manager for Washington state’s daily activities and is a member of the national council of administration for our state, Idaho and Montana, said local posts have fared better than most. The VFW, which has 29,000 members in the state, has seen about a 15 percent decline from 2002-12. That is much better than the national picture, where many states have seen 40 to 50 percent declines in membership during that time period.

Weatherill said membership at Post 2669 also has been much more stable than others nationally.

“We’ve been hanging right at 400 for the last 10 years,” he said, adding that about one-quarter of those are regulars. “We’re trying to get the newer members to come in. A lot of them are trying to work to feed their families on the outside.”

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