To look at Mark Pezzella, you’d think he was in excellent health, but that’s not unusual for many veterans of the military, he said.
“Don’t be misled or confused by the fact somebody looks normal,’’ he said. “It doesn’t mean they’re not disabled. There’s a lot of disability you can’t see.’’
It took Pezzella some time to realize he had an assortment of physical and emotional ailments related to his service as a military policeman in the U.S. Army. It took longer still for him to get the benefits that were available to him from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now he’s speaking out on behalf of other veterans who need the same benefits he’s been getting.
Pezzella, who runs his own event production company, recently drew attention to the problem some veterans have getting the benefits they are owed when he spoke during a luncheon meeting for veterans hosted by the Hope Mills Chamber of Commerce.
After serving as a military policeman that included a stint in Operation Desert Storm, Pezzella left the Army on Oct. 27, 1991.
He spent the first 20 years out of the Army thinking he was just getting old and dealing with the normal problems of aging, never realizing that his various ailments were related to his military service and that there was help available to him he hadn’t pursued.
“When I found out this stuff was related to my military career, I said, ‘Wow, I’ve been paying for this stuff all this time,’” he said. “Nobody said anything to me. I didn’t have anybody championing the thought process of actually filing with the VA.’’
Pezzella was a classic case of a veteran with no visible signs of his various disabilities. Both his knees were practically bone on bone, with no cartilage left in either of them. He also had arthritis in both knees.
The arches of both of his feet had been torn out twice. He had stomach issues as a result of the food he ate while serving in Desert Storm. And there were also lingering mental issues left from the kinds of things people see while in a war zone.
It took time working with the VA, but Pezzella was eventually classified as 140 percent disabled. He only got that status within the last two years.
“A lot of soldiers think they have to hire an attorney to get the VA to give them what’s rightfully theirs,’’ Pezzella said.
Pezzella didn’t do it that way. He found an organization based in Durham called Veterans Pavilion. The organization can be researched online at veteranspavilion.com.
“They do all the paperwork, all the organizational stuff for the soldier for free,’’ Pezzella said. “They even put the stamp on the envelope.’’
Pezzella said the paperwork alone involved in getting military benefits can be daunting, especially for someone who may be suffering from mental issues related to their years in service.
“For them to expect someone with a mental disability to understand the paperwork is silly,’’ Pezzella said. “The paperwork is so complex and legalized, it’s hard for anyone to understand.’’
That’s why Pezzella is happy to tell his story and encourage those in the same position he was in. “I’m happy to explain the process I took, which was very successful, very cost effective to get me where I am now,’’ he said.
“The bottom line is people don’t know they can get help. I want them to know they can and it doesn’t cost any money. I can point them in the right direction.’’
While Pezzella encourages veterans in need to reach out to Veterans Pavilion for assistance, he is also willing to talk with veterans on a limited basis to share his experience getting benefits. If you would like to contact Pezzella, his number is 910- 322-4200.
Photo: Mark Pezzella