Edison honors Hidden Heroes

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By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

EDISON — Work by caregivers of military veterans is often hidden when it comes to recognition.

With the Township Council’s adoption of a resolution on Jan. 25 to designate Edison as a Hidden Heroes City, it brings attention to the needs that these caregivers may need that may include help with finance, legal, education and job issues, respite and more, said Edison resident Ann Marie Pacciano. She has cared for her veteran husband Gary since he was medically released from serving in the U.S. Army in 2006.

Pacciano said she approached Mayor Thomas Lankey about the Hidden Heroes City, which is part of a campaign launched last fall by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to call attention to the 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers throughout the nation.

“Edison Township has been extremely receptive and opened their hearts to us,” she said.

Pacciano said she learned of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation when she was taking her husband for treatment at the VA hospital in East Orange and become a foundation fellow two years ago.

“Most of these caregivers are young with young children,” she said.

She said work with the foundation has brought her before the United States Congress and former first lady Michelle Obama.

Lankey said family members and friends who provide care for injured, ill or disabled veterans and service members should not be hidden.

“They really are heroes,” the mayor said said. “I am proud that Edison is honoring and supporting their dedication and commitment to their loved ones.”

Lankey said his administration, working with the Township Council, will be exploring ways for Edison to best support their local caregivers.

“Helping them to meet their daily challenges and long-term needs as they provide care for our servicemen and women,” the mayor said.

Council President Michael Lombardi said the campaign’s focus is to support the caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.

“These caregivers could be someone from a spouse to a parent or a relative or a friend,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said the council always makes a point to recognize Eagle Scouts and other residents for things that they have done.

“These are things that we can visually see … this resolution recognizes people that perform such great duties for our own veterans and service members that don’t get recognized because you can’t see it,” he said.

Every council member on the dais shared Lombardi’s sentiments.

“It is important that we do our job as a council to support [caregivers] in their efforts of taking love and time out of their lives and commitment to help those who make the sacrifice and go into the front lines and fight for us to defend our freedoms,” said Council Vice President Alvaro Gomez.

Councilman Robert Diehl said it is important to understand that there is no time limit of being a caregiver.

“It’s not like, ‘Well, I’m going to help out today or tomorrow or for a week’ … in some cases it’s many years of very hard, exhausting work,” he said.

Councilman Joseph Coyle said he took care of both his parents.

“Being a caregiver and not having a time limit [where you are] to and from appointments with so many things going on, [sometimes it involves] adjustment of your entire house, your life and [combined] you have a work schedule,” he said, adding that the way to recognize the caregivers is like an unsung hero.

Councilwoman Sapana Shah said she echoed the sentiments of her fellow council members.

“I hope that not only as a community we get more involved,” she said. “I think we still need to do more. There’s a lot of men and woman who are coming back, and they need a lot of medical resources.”

Councilman Leonard Sendelsky said he feels very strongly about their veterans and the people who care for them and their families.

Edison is only the second New Jersey community to sign on as a Hidden Heroes community behind East Orange. Both are among the first 100 U.S. cities to agree to participate.

Among the national campaign’s key initiatives are to raise public awareness and help develop resources and supports for military caregivers at a local level.

“If we want to be a nation that truly cares for those who have borne the battle, we must also be a nation that cares for our caregivers,” said actor Tom Hanks, who serves as national chair for the Hidden Heroes Campaign.

Pacciano said the township has put a link to the Hidden Heroes campaign at HiddenHeroes.org on the township’s website at edisonnj.org.

She said many things are in the planning stages, which include inviting caregivers, once identified, to the township’s annual Memorial Day Parade.