CACHE, Okla. — Veterans Day is on Nov. 11, but while the nation is paying tribute to all the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, some of those very same people are finding their lives aren’t going so well.
For Paul Wojtowicz, a resident of Toms River who lived in Clark for more than 20 years, this is simply one more cause to which he has to respond. He did the same thing in 2022, when he volunteered to go over to the Ukraine to lend his assistance. His experiences as a contractor quality control systems manager and project manager in heavy construction made him ideal for that kind of work. In addition to raising money and supplies for humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, Wojtowicz went over there to lend a hand himself.
Under a lot of pressure and, sometimes, under fire, when Wojtowicz returned to the United States, he found himself suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Fortunately for him, he didn’t suffer alone.
“Thank God for Chris and Jillian,” said Wojtowicz in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, Nov. 3. “I never met these people and they helped me.”
The people to whom Wojtowicz is referring are Chris Miller and Jillian Stockslager and each has a story to tell that relates to the former Clark resident’s new passion: helping veterans.
Stockslager lives in Maryland with her husband, Mike, a veteran who had served almost 20 years. Unfortunately, after his service, he needed further help and the U.S.Veterans Affairs Department did not meet his needs, leading to him almost taking his life.
“They do good things in public but when veterans need help, they make excuses,” said Stockslager in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, Nov. 3. “Veterans need guidance and direction and it wasn’t available.”
“I tried to get my husband to an alcohol facility and they kept sending him home,” she continued. “The VA Hospital kept him for a three-day hold. They didn’t have a substance abuse clinic available.
“We lost our home and my kids have had a hell of a childhood because of it.”
Miller is currently also living in Maryland with Stockslager and her family. A combat veteran, and former firefighter, he has also had problems with the VA and is trying to help vets get the help they need.
“I’ve essentially been homeless for the last 20 years, because I worked on oil rigs and was always out there 350 days a year,” said Chris Miller in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, Nov. 3. “I really don’t have any family or anywhere to go.”
“Josh was my best friend,” he said, referring to a veteran suffering from PTSD who eventually killed himself. “When I did need time to relax, I stayed with him at his home in Mays Landing, New Jersey.”
The problems his friend was facing made Miller want to do something to help him, but that didn’t prove so easy.
“When I was trying to help Josh, I contacted 48 multimillion dollar organizations that supposedly catered to vets. It was one thing or another. It was always a different excuse.”
Wojtowicz spoke highly of Miller and Stockslager’s husband.
“Chris is a very humble man, but he is a true hero,” said Wojtowicz. “Jillian’s husband is a highly decorated soldier. He did four combat tours and served for 19 years.”
After Wojtowicz came back from Ukraine, he had seen the suffering soldiers go through, suffering from PTSD himself. Thanks to the help he has received from Miller and Stockslager, Wojtowicz was able to recover, and now he wanted to help veterans who weren’t being helped when they needed it.
He selected Oklahoma as an ideal location to build a place for veterans because land was cheap and there were already a lot of veterans in the area, thanks to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla. Fort Sill is a U.S. Army post about 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, covering almost 94,000 acres. A National Historic Landmark, it serves as the home of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School, the Marine Corps’ site for Field Artillery MOS school, the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School, the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade and the 75th Field Artillery Brigade.
“Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla.; it’s a very large base. They actually taught Ukrainians how to use Patriot missiles there,” Wojtowicz said.
“They had a hospital there, Reynolds Hospital. The VA decided to shut it down and make it a clinic, so now it’s called Reynolds Army Health Clinic. But now all veterans or active duty that cannot get services at the health clinic have to go to local hospitals.”
Wojtowicz insists this location would be perfect for what he has planned.
“We have 2,700 residents in Cache, Okla., and half of them are military,” he said. “I am surrounded by military people – contractors – and some of them are active military. And so many have suffered. It’s crazy how many people suffer and the VA just dropped them.”
This suffering was what prompted Wojtowicz to start his nonprofit.
“Deserving Veterans, my nonprofit, was originally in Clark,” he said. “When I moved to Belford, we moved the address. The active mailing address is Belford.
We’re just setting up a domain right now. On Facebook, you can find it as Deserving Veterans.
Village of Deserving Veterans. We’re trying to set it up in Oklahoma.”
“We’re looking for property,” continued Wojtowicz. “We have some donors from Texas who are looking to invest in us. We have a guy from Houston who’s looking to help with the construction.
“We’re looking for volunteers, donors; any assistance of any kind, I’ll take.”
“Many nonprofits team up with other nonprofits,” he added. “We will welcome people from any state here. This is not a pipe dream.We are doing this.”
“I do a lot of Linked In. I have a network,” Stockslager said.
Speaking of combat and U.S. soldiers serving overseas, she said, “It’s real and they’re young and they’ve lost their minds. They (the VA) put you in situations and expect you to find your way out.”
“It’s just a hell that you can’t make it through. When people don’t have hope, they don’t have anything.”
“Veterans can contact me at Linked In or 443-684-4059,” she added. “This will get them connected to other veterans so they’re not so alone and maybe save some lives in the process.”
When Miller needed a service dog to help him get past his PTSD, he found out how truly expensive it can be to get help.
“When I paid out of pocket for a service dog, it cost me $48,000,” he said. “I bought everything that came with him, and that was a discounted rate. I have pretty bad PTSD, so the dog helps me stay in bed and keep people away from me.
“I lost Maverick about 6 months ago. I have an address in New Jersey that I haven’t been back to since Maverick died.”
Wojtowicz is in contact with several nonprofits for veterans in New Jersey and had nothing but kind words for them.
“New Jersey Veterans Network’s director is Michael Bolls,” he said. “He’s an ex-Marine and he became a police officer in Newark. I met him through a project. We were trying to build a smart house for a veteran in Cranford who was paralyzed for life. But he didn’t survive the pandemic.
“Ron the Medic runs a nonprofit called Project AWOL. That’s what we call him. He’s looking for a service dog. He’s actually having a fundraiser in South Jersey. I found a dog in Ohio, a great Dane, already trained, and I put them in touch and they might get a service dog for free.”
“This is how nonprofits help other nonprofits,” he added.
So Wojtowicz keeps at helping people. But he feels that’s his mission in life: to help others.
“I’m doing a fundraiser for the people in the Ukraine right now,” he said. “I think my life has to be one of service. It’s all about helping people.”
“You have to go through the struggle to understand it. I think that’s what Paul did,” Stockslager said. “You gotta help people.”
“We can’t wait on the VA,” Miller agreed. “We didn’t beg to go over there, but now we’re begging for help and can’t get it.”
“It costs a lot of money to get your word out,” Wojtowicz said. “We’re running on a shoestring budget. Chris struggles, Jillian struggles, Michael struggles; we all struggle.”
Meanwhile, he said he’s doing what he can for everyone.
“Deserving Veterans can be reached at 908-209-1757,” Wojtowicz said.
Photo Courtesy of Paul Wojtowicz