TOMS RIVER – A recent event held at the Toms River Library served as both a forum for veterans to learn more about the resources available to them and an early tribute to those who served in the armed forces.
The Veterans Town Hall was sponsored by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and featured guest speakers Freeholder Director Virginia Haines, Purple Heart recipient and retired U.S. Marines Corporal Rory Hamill, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer and Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau Director John Dorrity.
Hamill shared his story serving in the Marines from 2006 to 2012. “I grew up in the local area. I had a very, very troubled youth. I grew up in an abusive home and had a lot of hardships at an early age. At the age of 17 I joined up and went to Paris Island and became a father and went to Iraq and was also a husband. I was way over my head and didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.
“I was in Afghanistan and during my third deployment we received intelligence that there was an explosive device in a compound. Myself and my squad went over, set a perimeter around the compound,” Hamill said. He said originally another soldier was slated to use a metal detector to go inside but as this soldier looked nervous and had less experience “I took the mine sweeper off his back and proceeded to go inside and sweep for the IED.”
Hamill said, “I got very complacent and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings but when I was coming back into the doorway I stepped on the pressure plate and it instantly sheared off my right leg and damaged my butt and my calf and I got launched 10 feet in the air. At first, I didn’t know what happened. When I tried to stand up I saw my knee cap was hanging off and that is when it hit home that I was severely injured.”
The Marine was hospitalized and discharged after a year and half and came back to New Jersey. “I was extremely lost. My weekends consisted of just going out and drinking to excess. I had no drive or motivation. I was working a job but not really showing up. A lot of problems from my childhood started to surface as well combined with the trauma of combat,” Hamill said.
“It ultimately led to a point where I almost took my own life but the reason I didn’t do that is my children popped into my head. I stopped, put the weapon down and drove back to the house.
“I didn’t actually get any help until 2015. I felt I needed to get checked out. I was pretty sure I had depression, anxiety, the whole nine yards. Ever since I started seeking help for myself my life has improved ten-fold. I was fortunate to find the team here at the Prosecutor’s Office and even though it is a long-term position it is not a duty to me. It is more like a family,” Hamill added.
Hamill said, “it has been integral to my recovery. I love them very much. They are like my brothers and sisters and I feel that every veteran needs to find something like that when they get out.”
The event was one of a series of state wide Town Hall events focusing on providing resources and assistance to veterans, according to Ocean County Prosecutor’s Officer Renee White who served as the coordinator of the event. Various resource tables were part of the event held at the library’s Mancini Hall which also included several outside agencies. “We attended one in Middlesex County and they sent some of their officers to ours today.”
White said of Hamill: “He is not only a friend but a true hero and one of the reasons we are here today. He is one of our mentors in the Veterans Diversionary Program.” This is a program that allows eligible veterans to avoid conviction for some non-violent crimes.
Billhimer praised White for being “the heart and soul of the Veterans Diversionary program. She is the driving force in the office to ensure that we are always proactive in this area.
“Ocean County has the largest veteran population in the state. We have approximately 40,000 veterans. Some of these veterans work here, some have retired here and some work out in Fort Dix. Many are snow birds that come back and forth. We are here today to thank all of you and celebrate your service,” Billhimer said.
That’s why it’s so important to reach out to them and make sure they get the services they deserve, the officials said.
Dorrity said, “too many veterans, too many widows, too many children of veterans don’t receive their just benefit whether it is health, education or monetary benefit every month in the form of a non-service connected pension, a widow’s pension or service connected compensation. War sucks and nobody knows it better than the people who have to fight it.”
The Veterans Service Bureau located on the first floor of the Ocean County One Stop Center, located at 1027 Hooper Ave., provides numerous services to veterans, and widows and families of veterans.
“We are well aware that working with various levels of government to access the benefits you deserve can be very frustrating and very confusing,” Freeholder Director Virginia Haines said, adding that the center’s staff were trained to help them. She also noted that the staff of the Ocean County Clerk’s Office is able to assist with documents such as discharge papers that are required for benefit services in cases where such forms are lost or destroyed.