Veterans Open Up Bradford Home
Karen Lipinczyk, pastor of the Bradford Congregational United Church of Christ, speaks with U.S. Congressman Peter Welch during an open house for the Veterans Inc. Facility in Bradford, Vt., on November 22, 2013.
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U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., watches Desert Storm veteran Kevin Waite demonstrate a weight machine in the new weight room at the Veterans Inc. home in Bradford, Vt., on Friday. Valley News — Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »
Veterans Day letters to residents adorn a door at the Veterans Inc. home in Bradford, Vt., on Friday. Valley News — Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »
Bradford, Vt. — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said an open-ended security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan is a “bad idea,” and he opposes American troops remaining in the country.
“We should be coming home right away,” the Vermont Democrat said on Friday in an interview after delivering remarks at an open house celebration for the recently renovated Veterans Inc. home in Bradford.
The new facility now boasts a weight room, workshop and other amenities to go along with its 16 beds for homeless veterans who are attempting to transition back into the community.
One of those veterans, Kevin Waite, disagreed with Welch’s position. If the U.S. leaves Afghanistan entirely, Waite said, “we’ll just wind up creating another bin Laden.”
“If we don’t change what’s going on oversees and make our mission more humanitarian, then we’re not going to get out of there winning hearts and minds,” said Waite, an Army medic and surgical technician during Operation Desert Storm, as he stood in the threshold between the house’s living room and weight room.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday recommended approval of the security pact allowing U.S. forces to stay in the country for another decade. But on Friday he rejected American demands that he sign it, preferring to let his successor make that decision after the April 5 elections. Without a security agreement, the Obama administration has said, all U.S. forces will be pulled from the country by the end of this year.
On Tuesday, though, the focus was on the veterans and the work that has been done — and still needs to be done — to help them.
About 40 people packed into the living room of the Bradford house, taking refuge indoors against the suspect weather. Early on, Welch took his place at the lectern and gazed out the window for several seconds before speaking.
“We came inside today because it’s cold outside,” Welch said. “If you’re a homeless veteran, you didn’t have a place to come.”
Welch, along with representatives from the offices of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Gov. Peter Shumlin, spoke of the importance of housing programs like that offered by Veterans Inc . John Tracy, who yesterday came representing Leahy and is a veteran himself, said that while conditions are better for veterans, there is plenty of room to improve.
“Now we don’t just walk by and turn a blind eye,” Tracy said.
Veterans Inc., the Worcester, Mass.-based organization that runs the Bradford facility, opened the house in 2011. It became one of several sites in New England that offer services from housing to counseling. John Dulmage, the Bradford site coordinator, said 14 of 16 beds are filled.
The recent renovation, which turned an old kitchen into a weight room and a decrepit cellar into a workshop with storage space, along with other renovations, was largely performed by the veterans themselves, Dulmage said. For instance, a resident with construction experience worked to patch up a wall in the cellar.
The cost of the renovation was $50,000-$60,000, primarily for materials, Dulmage said. It was paid for with a $100,000 private, unrestricted donation. The next step, he said, is paying off the mortgage.
Donnie Loranger, a Vietnam-era veteran who has lived in the house since April, said residents take ownership of their living situation, even if they are allowed to live in the house for a maximum of two years.
“The people and the community really support us a lot,” Loranger said, mentioning thank-you notes sent to the residents by a local elementary school, as well as donations of clothing and supplies. “We try to keep the place neat, like it was our home.”
The open house event was the second veterans-focused event Welch attended on Friday, following a visit to the White River Junction VA Medical Center for a homeless veterans summit. The summit, which included officials from the VA centers in White River Junction and Manchester, N.H., focused on homeless veterans caught up in the justice system, according to Steve Kelliher, a psychologist and the White River Junction VA’s homeless coordinator.
Kelliher said housing programs offered by entities such as Veterans Inc. are “hugely important” to the health of veterans.
Just before Welch arrived in Bradford, Loranger sat on the chairs set up for an outdoor ceremony that wouldn’t come to pass, holding onto a mug. Waite, the Desert Storm veteran, walked around the living room. Liz Mulder, who began working at Veterans Inc. on Monday, stood by one of the windows.
She had completed the drive from Massachusetts to Vermont about an hour beforehand, she said, and when she first entered she was greeted by residents tidying up the house.
“They were very excited to open up the doors,” Mulder said. “That just really touched my heart.”
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch discussed America's role in Afghanistan in an interview after delivering remarks at Friday's event at the Veterans Inc. home in Bradford, Vt. An earlier version of this story was unclear on when Welch talked about Afghanistan.