He won’t apply for the position, but if drafted by the community, 2012 “BMe Leader” Ari Merretazon say he’ll accept the nomination to become Philadelphia’s first-ever Director of Veterans Affairs.
After more than a year of public pressure, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke last week during a meeting with a group of soldiers agreed to appoint a Director of Veterans Affairs, instead of having official public guidelines govern the process. Not satisfied with the offer to utilize the “good ole boys club” to service vulnerable veterans, 2012 “BMe Leader” Ari Merretazon, tells me Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry Founder and President Jim Abrams, wants him to assume the role that would act as a liaison between veterans and the VA, and says Abrams, and the community at large, intends to start a grassroots campaign to draft him into the seat.
“Minister Ari would be the right person in this position because of his love for veterans and he would work on behalf of every veteran,” Abram said.
“I wouldn’t apply for the job, but if the veteran community advocated for me I would accept the draft,” say Merretazon, who didn’t put up a fight when he was drafted into the Vietnam War at age 19.
Hiding in rice paddies with weapons by his side, the brave teen solider knew that while he was face-to-face with Charlie, the Viet Cong, the real war was back home, and the enemies were Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. Serving as a Recoilless Rifleman in 25th & 4th Infantry Division from 1967-68, Merretazon, who in August accepted the 2013 Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust Award, says he’s mentally preparing himself for the battle against City Council the same way he did as a member recon platoon saddling up.
“Strategic and tactical development, that’s what guides war, based on the objective(s). Using those principles in the context of Director of Veterans Affairs, I would use the skills sets I’ve learned over the years, my practice informed by my academics. Strategies and tactics must be based on the facts and circumstances of where you are and what you’re dealing with. So if you look at the facts and circumstances here in Philadelphia in respect to Director of Veterans Affairs, there isn’t one, so there needs to be advocacy for one. There’s a law that says there should be one, so we’re already down that critical path,” explains Merretazon, an alumnus of the Graduate School of Community Economic Development, Southern New Hampshire University.
Testifying before Congress on matters relating to the readjustment of veterans – a testimony that eventually led to the Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Act of 1978 – the 66 year-old ordained minister suggest that as a war veteran, he has the complete soldier experience, and thus making him more qualified to service the veteran community than anyone Clarke can choose from his roster of around-the-way regulars.
“The Veterans Preference Act of 1954 trumps political patronage,” Merretazon states firmly.
Working with veterans since age 20, Merretazon—who in addition to advocating for a Director of Veterans Affairs is lobbying for a memorial at the former site of Edison High, a Northeast Philadelphia school that had more students killed in the Vietnam War than other in the nation – says since he was drafted as a teenager he’s never stopped fighting against oppression and injustice.
“My purpose for life is to assist in the liberation of our people. A potential draft in the role of Director of Veterans Affairs would be an innovation on what I did back in the day. The face of oppression has changed, it’s been refined, so those of us who consider ourselves revolutionaries, liberators and soldiers in the fight for freedom have to also refine our means to engage and transform the system.”
Chief-of-Staff for Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry, Merretazon, who set-up a veterans affairs office in inside of a prison which was recognized by the VA and President Jimmy Carter at the White House, envisions his initial acts as Director would be to put together a budget and do outreach to the veterans community.
“Outreach is a major gap in this city and in veterans services. Outreach means to go find the folks in need, not waiting for them to come into the office. Many of the vulnerable veterans are eligible for the same benefits that any other honorable discharged veteran gets, but for whatever reason—whether it is mental illness or addiction—they don’t claim them. I would find them, bring them into a 24 hour stand down center and let them rest. Then I’d wrap around programs to empower them and turn their life around. Again, I’m not applying for the job; however, if the community drafts me, I stand ready to mount up.”
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Photo: C. Norris—©2013