Ray Durand’s garage stands tucked away behind his white brick house on Pantops. John Miska unloads donations from Bed, Bath & Beyond out of the bed of his old red pickup truck. Miska lugs another box past Durand. "Looks like a nice little library table," Miska says to him. "I don’t know if it has the glass in there or not."
Durand looks at the box. Inside are the parts—maybe some, maybe all—to an espresso-colored bookshelf. "Maybe the glass is still in there," says Ray. "Maybe," says Miska, and walks the box inside the garage. Durand, a World War II veteran, turns to watch him. "I spend hours in there," he says, "fixing this stuff."
Miska has spent the afternoon collecting returned items from Bed, Bath & Beyond. He’s here to drop them off for Durand, who stores them in his garage and fixes the broken returns. Miska runs them up to wounded soldiers at Washington, D.C.’s Walter Reed Medical Center, something he’s been doing for over three years. It’s all part of the Adopt a Soldier program, one of the veterans groups in Charlottesville that, however quietly, is responding to the growing needs of not only wounded soldiers coming from Afghanistan and Iraq but also older veterans in need of help.
John Miska loads his truck with donated goods to run them up to wounded soldiers at Washington, D.C.’s Walter Reed Medical Center.
There are the older organizations, local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion, that provide support and community. Disabled American Veterans (DAV) runs a van between here the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital in Richmond. And there’s Adopt a Soldier, Miska’s outfit, that focuses on the needs of the new generation of soldiers.
Most counts put the number of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan near 27,000. While local organizations do what they can for the ever-expanding number of new veterans in need, there have been turf battles and fractured partnerships.
"Each group has its own way of helping," says Dave Duncan of VFW Post 1827. "Some are hands-on, on a daily basis, and some are more standoff-ish, like we are, except for immediate needs." Duncan says local vet groups get along relatively well. "We don’t smack each other when we meet," he says with a laugh, though he admits "there are some tensions that go back."
Ray Miller drives the DAV van to Richmond every week. He used to work with Miska, visiting soldiers in Walter Reed, distributing donations. But he hasn’t been back in a long time because of health problems and a dispute with Miska about the treatment of a soldier in Charlottesville. Miller has only nice things to say about Miska ("He is very dedicated. He does good things."), but Miska admits he and Miller have had a "falling out."
"I’m trying to patch it up," says Miska. "Ray is still working with his Legion Post. He’s still active. He’s not as active at Walter Reed [anymore], but we’d love him to be so."
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