John Donnelly of the Upper Keys VFW is thankful for the outpouring of support for Vets throughout the Keys. He said, “The collective goodness of the Citizens living in the Florida Keys is beyond reproach. Having been around the block, I’ve never witnessed such love and respect shown to our Veterans.”
Donnelly, a purple heart recipient himself, is referring to the many different services available to help bring our Vets together and to make their lives easier. The Weekly highlights some of these alternative services available throughout the Keys, ranging from fishing trips to free gym memberships to cash rebates on homes.
Fish With a Hero – Fishing Trips
Every year, the nonprofit brings wounded and disabled Vets from around the country to Islamorada for world class fishing with Worldwide Sportsman (Bass Pro Shops). To get involved or volunteer, email Captain Mark Gibson at [email protected].
Homes for Heroes – Cash Rebate for Buying/Selling Homes
This program, started after 911 to give back to Heroes, gives a cash rebate to Veterans after a real estate transaction. It’s a great way for Vets to save money when buying or selling a house in the Keys. More info at www.homesforheroes.com. Email April Struhs at [email protected].
The Long Walk Home – Discount Gym Memberships
Ron Zaleski walked the entire Appalacian Trail to create awareness for PTSD. He’s since walked barefoot across the country to petition for mandatory counseling. His nonprofit supports Vets by bringing them down to swim with dolphins in exchange for work at their facility. They also support fishing trips through Fish With A Hero and subsidize gym memberships at Mac Gym in Key Largo. Through Mac, active duty military receive 100% off gym memberships and Vets receive 50% off, but if Vets can’t afford the balance, The Long Walk Home will cover it in exchange for Vets taking a mindfulness course. For more info email [email protected] or call 305-399-5354.
Military Gold Sportsman’s License – Hunting, Fishing License
FWC offers the Military Gold Sportsman’s License to active duty and retired members of the US Armed Forces, Armed Forces reserves, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard Reserves stationed in Florida or claiming Florida as their primary residence. This reduces the annual license for a $100 Gold Sportsman’s License to $20 and includes the Hunting, Saltwater Fishing and Freshwater Fishing licenses; and the Deer, Wildlife Management Area, Archery, Muzzleloading Gun, Crossbow, Turkey, Florida Waterfowl, Snook and Lobster permits. More info at myfwc.com/license/recreational/military-gold/.
The Military Wallet – Free Meals for Vets
Many restaurants and companies thank our Veterans each year by offering them discounts or a free meal. You can find a listing here of pre-Veteran’s Day, Veteran’s Day and Post-Veteran’s Day discounts online at themilitarywallet.com/veterans-day-free-meals-and-discounts/.
Monroe County Veteran’s Affairs – Social and Support Services
The County has a variety of services available to help vets. Stop into the office and register in Key Largo (102050 Overseas Highway, Suite 208, Phone: 305-453-8777) or Key West (1200 Truman Avenue, Suite 204, Phone: 305-295-5150). More info at www.monroecounty-fl.gov/123/Veterans-Affairs.
The County provides help with claims for service-connected disabilities, non-service-connected pensions, allowances, survivor benefits, education benefits, home loans, insurance claims, and even bill disputes (with the VA and outside vendors).
Tax Collector and County Appraiser
The County works with the Tax Collector and County Appraiser’s Offices to obtain different benefits for Vets. The County Tax Collector will waive the fee to have the “veteran” designation added to Vet’s driver’s licenses. This will allow Vet’s to more easily collect on discounts available for Vets at local stores and restaurants without having their Veteran’s Identification Card on them.
Disabled Veterans get a $5,000 discount off their assessed home value. 100% permanent disabled and service-connected veterans do not pay property taxes as long as their homes are homesteaded properties. For vets 65+ years old with a combat-related disability, the percentage of service-connectedness of the wound is the percentage off available for property taxes. The County can write letters of support to the Property Appraiser’s Office on behalf of veterans to secure tax exemptions and discounts.
Monroe Marauders – Military History Appreciation
The Monroe Marauders honors Veterans by restoring, preserving and maintain historical military vehicles. The vehicles are used for parades, funerals, celebrations, and many other significant events throughout the County. They act as ambassadors about the vehicles history and important military events. Vets are welcome to come help restore, drive, and otherwise participate. For more info, call 305-731-6040 and email [email protected].
County and State Parks – Free and Discounted Admission
Florida State Parks will give a 25% discount on annual passes to all state parks for honorably discharged vets. Veterans with service-connected disabilities and their spouses or surviving spouses get a free lifetime pass.
County and municipal parks offer free or reduced entrance fees to current military members, honorably discharged or disabled veterans and their spouses.
For more info, visit www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/florida-state-veterans-benefits.html.
Veterans Ocean Adventures – Sailing, Diving, and Water Adventures
Group bringing Vets together to experience the healing power of water. They teach Vets to sail, race, scuba, kayak, and paddleboard, and host water-adventures where Vets can hang out with each other and have fun in and on the water. More info at veteransoceanadventures.org, email [email protected] or call Branson Rector at (305)389-6328 and leave a message.
Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride – Bicycle Ride
Annual bike ride every January in different parts of the Keys including Gilbert’s bridge, the 7-mile bridge, and into Key West for combat-wounded military veterans. Bicycles are provided with a police escort. More info at www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/soldier-ride.