When Tony Bruno returned from serving in the Vietnam War, he said he stepped off the airplane and “immediately, someone spat on me.”
Bruno has since made peace with those times and dedicated his own time to helping other veterans. But the feeling of being unappreciated came back to him and other Derry vets when the Town Council voted to halve a proposed increase to the Veterans Tax Credit.
Raising the tax credit to $400 was proposed by Councilor Al Dimmock, who argued that the increase would bring Derry more in line with surrounding towns, most of which have the full $500 tax credit allowed by state law. Derry veterans are currently allowed a $300 exemption, with disabled veterans allowed up to $2,000.
Dimmock argued that the veterans deserved the increase. But the Council voted 5-2 at its May 20 meeting to phase in the tax credit, beginning with $50 in 2015 and reaching the full $500 in four years, as previously reported in the Nutfield News.
Bruno and the other veterans left the meeting.
Bruno said the impetus for leaving was a comment by Chairman Mark Osborne about not being able to serve every “special interest group” in town. That didn’t sit well with Bruno or John Patucek, a fellow Vietnam veteran.
“It was a slap in the face,” Bruno said.
In a phone interview last week, Osborne said he didn’t mean the term in a derogatory manner. “‘Special interest groups’ is not a pejorative term,” Osborne said. “People have to decide how they want to take it. Any time we focus on a small group rather than the majority, we have to make choices.”
The veterans are a “group of people focused on a singular issue,” Osborne said.
Osborne also reminded Derry residents, including veterans, that veterans are still getting a $50 increase, and eventually the full $500. “People have a choice – they can see the glass half-empty or half-full,” he said. “It’s the first increase since 2009.”
No offense was intended by the term, Osborne added, saying, “It’s part of our daily vocabulary.”
And, Osborne said, he is not “anti-veteran.”
“I appreciate what they’ve done,” he said. “A $10,000 tax break would not be enough. But we try.”
Bruno, a member of the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion, said he’s doing all right and can get along without the tax credit. But other veterans are hurting, he said, including one friend with two Purple Hearts who is barely making it. “He’s 61 years old and he’s dying of Agent Orange,” Bruno said.
Patucek said it wasn’t the money that upset him, but Osborne’s comment. “Calling us a ‘special interest group’ really turned me off,” he said. “He insulted 23,000 people in the state of New Hampshire. We’re not a special interest group. I think we’re a little bit more than that.”
Service people are “the ones who stepped up to do the jobs nobody else wanted,” Patucek said. His father fought in the Second World War at Iwo Jima, his grandfather in World War I. “It’s part of who we are,” Patucek said.
Like Bruno, Patucek remembers a different time. “When I got home from the Air Force, I went to a bar with my father the same night,” he said. “I was in uniform. Words were said, I got in a fight and I walked out of the bar.”
While conditions have improved for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Patucek said, “We paid the price so they could be taken care of.”
Patucek isn’t sure where he’ll go from here. “But I’ll be careful who I vote for,” he said. “They threw us a bone.”
And Bruno will continue to devote his spare time to helping other veterans. He is a frequent volunteer at the Veterans Administration in Manchester. He and some friends go there every Wednesday night to play Bingo. Their 24 Bingo players are people who will never be discharged from the hospital, Bruno said. Some have visitors, some don’t.
“Last February we went up there on a night when there was a snow storm,” Bruno said. “Four of them cried – they didn’t think we were coming.”