Howard Altman: Would a ‘war council’ of veterans groups help fill gaps?

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, left, convened a meeting on veterans' needs hosted by retired Army Master Sgt. Scott Neil at the American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg. [HOWARD ALTMAN   |   Times]

Every day, I get phone calls, emails and social media messages from mostly good-hearted people with worthy, military-themed causes.

There are house give-aways and car give-aways. Equine and canine therapy programs. Lots of charities helping those with wounds seen and unseen.

With so many people chasing the same dollars, it is a crowded space. Yet the need remains great. What to do?

For the past several years, I’ve talked to retired Green Beret Master Sgt. Scott Neil about creating what his vision for a “war council” of like-minded groups and individuals to help determine what needs exist, what services are offered where the gaps are and how to fill them.

That effort found some new life recently with the unveiling of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s new Veterans Advisory Board, created in part through Neil’s efforts. The first meeting was held March 19 at the American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg, owned by Neil and other former Green Berets.

Crist pulled together a solid cadre of individuals representing a number of area charitable efforts and many of the folks there expressed a similar concern about the crowded space.

Among other efforts, Neil helped create the Green Beret Foundation’s Next Ridgeline program, aimed at helping Army Special Forces veterans find entrepreneurial opportunities. He took a step back from that as he and his team launched the brewery, but is now returning to the idea of leading the veterans-helping-veterans charge.

“It’s like the Blues Brothers,” he said at the meeting. “Let’s get the band back together.”

The question, Neil said, is why a war council like this is necessary.

“The issues are the same for all veterans yet there are hundreds of organizations trying to help or trying to scam. We need a self-organizing counsel of the concerned to help both veterans and donors navigate.”

Retired Army Lt. Col. Carol Barkalow also would like to see some kind of central repository of veterans services and needs is.

“We need to figure out the gaps and what we have already,” said Barkalow, who, along with her wife Sheila Mutascio runs the Pinellas County based, a non-profit that has housed more than 150 formally homeless veterans since 2012.

United Way has a similar effort in Hillsborough County.

Launched in January, Mission United connects veterans, service members and their families to the resources and services they need to acclimate back to civilian life.

“We have 93,000 veterans currently living in Hillsborough County alone, and many do not know which way to turn for support,” Mark Fetterman, Mission United’s local director, said on the United Way Suncoast website.

“Mission United creates a ‘no-wrong door’ approach by bringing together a comprehensive network of collaborative social supports,” said Fetterman, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.

Clearly, there are needs and people who want to help. But there are also overlaps.

If you run a charity helping veterans, know of any and would like to contribute ideas about a regional organization (please, no money), give me a shout at the e-mail address below.


The Department of Defense announced the deaths of seven airmen who were supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. They died March 15 when an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in western Iraq. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Here are the seven airmen who were killed:

• Capt. Mark K. Weber, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colo., assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

• Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches, N.Y.; Capt. Christopher T. Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, N.Y.; MSgt. Christopher J. Raguso, 39, of Commack, New York; and Staff Sgt. Dashan J. Briggs, 30, of Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. All four New Yorkers were assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, New York.

• Master Sgt. William R. Posch, 36, of Indialantic and Staff Sgt. Carl P. Enis, 31, of Tallahassee. Both were assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron, Air Force Reserve, at Patrick Air Force Base.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 49 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 53 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman