As Commander of the Lexington Veterans Association, I have worked with a unique, very impressive local charity supporting combat troops nationwide: Operation Open Arms (OOA). This 501(c)3 organization was founded eight years ago by Captain John Bunch of Pine Island who is a Marine veteran of Vietnam and a local fishing captain. He has led OOA charities with no paid staff out of his home while working full time. OOA has provided more than 2500 active duty service members home on leave from Iraq and Afghanistan a range of free services including: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling, lodging at resorts, fishing charters, restaurant meals, golf outings, Disney World weekends with their children, even 99 weddings and honeymoons.
Their contributions to these warriors have been recognized by two US presidents, The Today Show, CNN, the US Congress, Florida state officials, Lee county Commissioners, and The Department of Defense. Many local businesses have offered generous gifts and services but cash donations, which are tax deductible, have been sparse, especially lately.
OOA has provided more than a $10.8M value in gifts and services to soldiers on less than $96,000 in donations!
In the past two years, OOA has taken on the difficult challenge of providing PTSD counseling to returning veterans which is both expensive and long term. Soldiers who suffer PTSD, and there are at least 200,000 nationwide, have to wait sometimes months for treatment because the VA is so overwhelmed.
These veterans need immediate local help with continuing followup.OOA has recruited local mental health professionals, who are most helpful. Much more needs to be done as hundreds of southwest Florida veterans are at risk. In the Army and Marine Corps more troops have committed suicide many months than have died in combat. Captain Bunch also provides assistance at Walter Reed and Navy Bethesda hospitals for these patients.The need for funding is massive and growing for PTSD patients everywhere.
OOA has offered truly heroic assistance to local troops, ie. rebuilding a vandalized home of a Lehigh Acres marine who was serving in Afghanistan, and sending a local marine's mother to Fort Hood after her son was wounded in a terror attack. Many other acts of kindness and good deeds could be cited. The problem is financing!
OOA needs operating funds for staff because they have none and have continuing expenses.They have done so much with so little that it is most unfortunate that OOA may soon become extinct. All southwest Florida veterans groups, representing the largest concentration of veterans in the state, join in this appeal to continue OOA's valuable services to our area heroes. They have sacrificed so much for our freedoms and deserve our continuing support. Lastly, in 2012 Captain Bunch received the prestigious Junonia Award from Lee County. OOA has remained void of political and/or religious affiliation, payroll, salaries and special interests. Most charities are big businesses these days. Not OOA which is 100 percent volunteer.
Please send what you can to this irreplaceable and very deserving charity. Send checks to:
Operation Open Arms
Post Office Box 101
St. James City, FL 33956
Visit their website at operationopenarms.org.
Retired U.S. Navy CDR Ken Taylor is of Fort Myers.