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Western Pennsylvania groups are filling gaps in military veterans' services

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 11:14 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Paul 'Moke' Goettler, seen here in his Carrick home Jan. 2, 2013, is an 89-year-old World War II veteran who also delivers meals to seniors.

Paul “Moke” Goettler fought his way in the mountains of Italy during World War II.

At 89, he drives a truck around the hills of Carrick to deliver meals to senior citizens.

Goettler explains his more than 20 years of volunteering for the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania this way: “It makes you feel good. That's all I know.”

Like many veterans, Goettler has a passion to serve that did not vanish when he received his discharge from the military. Megan Andros, program officer for community and economic development with The Heinz Endowments, is developing a strategy to help veterans deal with the aftermath of war and harness their skills to help others.

“Everybody volunteered for the military, and then when you get out, you lose that sense of purpose. A lot of veterans don't feel they're done serving,” she said.

Hired in May, Andros is believed to be the area's first program officer specifically designated to address issues for the 250,000 veterans in the region, including an estimated 36,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. As she works to help veterans meet challenges they face, she is turning on its head the notion that returning veterans are victims.

“She's focusing on the strengths of a group that has a lot to offer,” said Joni Schwager, executive director of Staunton Farm Foundation. The foundation, which focuses on behavioral health and substance abuse issues, tries to help veterans in those areas.

Staunton Farm is one of a group of foundations taking part in the Veterans Roundtable to discuss issues. Others include the Buhl, Benedum, Hillman, Jewish Healthcare, McCune, Pittsburgh and Richard King Mellon foundations and the DSF Charitable Trust.

Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, said the foundations are looking to fill gaps in services for veterans.

“Someone like Megan can help us with that because she has lived the experience,” he said.

A graduate of West Point, Andros, 30, of Mt. Lebanon served as an ordnance officer during the Iraq War and rose to the rank of captain. One of her first duties at Heinz was developing a survey to determine veterans' needs.

Marcel C. Minutolo, assistant professor of management at Robert Morris University, is a veteran who likes giving back to his community. He praised the Heinz effort to match the skills of veterans with groups who could use them.

“We want to be remembered, and we want to be valued and valuable. That's part of our makeup,” he said.

Minutolo volunteers for United Way of Allegheny County by helping to prepare tax returns for lower-income people.

“I'm so afraid of making an error on someone's taxes that I cannot sleep at night,” he said. “If I mess up my own, I'm OK. But if I mess up somebody else's, I hurt somebody who really needs it.”

But in fact, Minutolo makes money for some clients — lots of money. He recalled once calculating a rebate of about $14,000 for a woman who had not filed a return in three years.

“Despite the fact I'm paranoid about messing up someone's return, it's very rewarding,” he said. “When I go home almost every night, I kiss my wife and tell her how grateful I am for everything I have.”

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