Veterans center opens doors in Cape Coral
Cape Coral is home to a new headquarters for veterans from every war since World War II and those returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Ralph A. Santillo, founder of Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation, hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday morning for the new veteran’s center on Del Prado Boulevard.
“Our headquarters is designed to bring veterans in, old ones or new ones, it doesn’t matter what war they were from,” said Santillo. “I have always thought about helping the guys who come back.”
Santillo, a veteran himself, comes from a long line of military men, including his uncles who fought in World War II. For the last couple of years he has been trying to find a way to help the local veterans.
The headquarters will set veterans up with vocational training, job placement, loan assistance and connect them with health care. Inside the building is a place for veterans to meet and socialize, as well as a small museum featuring military uniforms from the last century.
“We are hoping to create jobs for them, get an education and a place to chew the fat,” he said.
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been having a hard time, he said, and some are turning to alcohol or drugs after a six-month gap from their return date.
“The new guys are taking a beating,” he said. “Statistics show if they don’t have a direction by six months they are on the wrong path.”
Officials from the American Red Cross of Lee County plan on visiting the headquarters once a week to work with veterans. They will counsel them on health benefits, how to get a loan and other forms of financial assistance.
“We are going to provide counseling to all veterans,” said Jeremy Gentile, the Red Cross’ Armed Forces coordinator in Lee County. “I’ve been talking to different veteran groups, and I’m trying to get everyone on the same page.”
There are 60 veterans groups in Lee County. By networking through the Red Cross, officials with the headquarters are hoping to find services that they never knew existed. Gentile, also a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, said he wanted to visit the headquarters once a week.
Local veterans also have access to a Red Cross emergency contact hotline that is available 24/7, said Gentile.
Veterans from North Fort Myers in the AMVETS Color Guard presented the colors during the ceremony on Friday morning.
According to Santillo, the headquarters is seeking volunteers to assist with day-to-day operations. For more information, call 541-8704 or visit the center at 3100 Del Prado Blvd. South.