American Legion Post 273 in Madeira Beach, Fla., has developed a strong bond with leadership and staff at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. Earlier this year Post 273 hosted a PACT Act open house that brought staff from the VA medical center to the post to assist veterans face to face with benefits claims, health-care questions and other areas.
That post support also was demonstrated last December and again this June, in the form of a pair of sizeable donations to the Bay Pines Fisher House. Fisher Houses provide free lodging for military and veteran families can stay free of charge, while a loved one is receiving care at a military or VA medical center.
On June 1, members of Post 273 presented the local Fisher House with a check for $29,889. In December, a check for more than $10,000 was presented to the Fisher House by the post.
“We are partners with Bay Pines, and they are so critical to the veterans in Pinellas County,” said Post 273 Service Officer Susan Kohler, who will serve as the post’s second vice commander in 2023-2024. “There’s so many veterans who come to Bay Pines. And the Fisher House, I equate it to the Ronald McDonald House for children’s hospitals, but it’s for our veterans. And our (post members) and patrons feel so strongly about supporting the veterans’ families who have to come to Bay Pines. It just resonates with so many of our members.”
Kohler credited fellow Legionnaire Dick Karol with leading the fundraising effort. Karol serves as the post’s Fisher House chairman. “Two or three days a week he comes up to our post, and he shakes the jug,” she said. “He literally shakes a jug and collects donations from the patrons who are up there. And for this last six months, we agreed that whatever he collected, we would match his collection.
“He’s been doing the Fisher House for years. He’s the face of the Fisher House for us.”
Via press release, Bay Pines VA Fisher House Manager Shentrela Diggins said, “We continue to be humbled by the generosity of organizations throughout the area who give back in support of the Fisher House mission. This donation from American Legion Post 273 will go to the purchase of essential items servicemembers, veterans, families, and caregivers need when they reside at the Fisher House.
“It just warms my heart that organizations like Post 273 and countless others choose us and those we serve when they decide to give back. Our local community is full of Veterans and families who know what it’s like because they all served, too, and I don’t think they know how much we respect each of them for paying it forward to those we serve now and in the future.”
Similar praise was given by Bay Pines VA leadership. “There is no group who loves veterans more than the organizations and leaders who support Bay Pines VA Healthcare System,” said Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Director/CEO Paul M. Russo. “We’re honored to have veteran organizations like American Legion Post 273 as long-standing partners in our mission to provide world-class health care, services, and support to veterans, families, and caregivers.”
Kohler said the relationship with Bay Pines is just another way to support veterans in the community. “We feel so committed to our veterans and making sure they get the care that they need,” she said. “Bay Pines is instrumental in that for our veterans in this area.”