Center still needs funding to help veterans

Facility lost 98 percent of funding after racketeering arrests


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Monday was Patrick Petty's fourth day at Five Star Veterans Center.

"I'm just trying to better myself," he said.

The 30-year-old Marine served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Six years later, the war hasn't left Petty. He suffers daily from post-traumatic stress.

"Unless you've been there, you truly won't experience where we are coming from," Petty said. "Can you understand me? I can tell you until I'm blue in the face. Do you understand? But you'll never understand it."

Five Star Veterans Center was Petty's only option for a place to stay.

"It was either this or me laying in a ditch, and I choose to come here," he said.

But even at the center there is uncertainty.

Five Star Veterans Center is struggling to keep its doors open after Allied Veterans of the World board members were arrested in March on racketeering charges, wiping out 98 percent of the center's funding and potential future.

Managers of the facility were afraid they'd have to close their doors next month. But Five Star's CEO, Retired Col. Len Loving, says the community has donated anywhere from $5 to $200 at a time to help fund the center a little longer.

Still, it's a short-term fix to a long-term issue.

"Not enough to really say we are totally out of the woods, but enough to go through July," Loving said.

He said the center needs about $18,000 to $20,000 a month to maintain its basic services like food, supplies, compensating a four-person staff and making sure utility bills get paid.

Loving said there are some glimmers of hope. Managers of a Texas-based veteran rehabilitation facility are offering to help.

"They have come forward and mentioned they would like to team with us in some capacity to provide us with the needed cash to sustain ourself in the neighborhood of a year," Loving said.

Other options include selling a piece of land Five Star owns and possibly receiving a donation from a Vietnam Veterans of America convention planned for this summer.

But if or when any of that happens is still unclear. Loving still needs the community's help to keep going.

"We need an infusion of funding to be very comfortable through December before any of these other things pop into place," he said.

They are donations that will help Petty, a father of two, get back on his feet.

"Got to think positive the whole time and everything will take care of itself," Petty said.

To donate to Five Star Veterans Center, call 904-723-5950 or go to 5starveteranscenter.org.