When Richard Dvorin hears about New Jersey soldiers who have lost their lives fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, he proudly dons his Jewish War Veterans hat and uniform and drives to the funeral.
“I don’t have the financial resources to travel all over the country, but I try to make as many in the state as I can,” said Dvorin of East Brunswick. “I go, extend my condolences to the family, pay my respects to a fallen hero, and I leave.”
He often thinks about his own son, Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, who was killed in 2004 in Iskandariyah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was conducting operations along a supply route. The younger Dvorin, who joined the Army after graduating Rutgers University, was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Combat Action Badge. New Jersey awarded him a Distinguished Service Medal with a V for valor.
Dvorin also has his son in mind every time he helps a soldier returning from Afghanistan or Iraq, many suffering post traumatic stress disorder, as a volunteer counselor with the NJ Veterans Hotline. The hotline, the only one of its kind in the nation, is a joint project of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Dvorin, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, also leads a monthly support group for Vietnam vets at the state’s Vietnam war memorial at the PNC Banks Arts Center in Holmdel and is a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Post 233 in Metuchen.
“It helps me with the loss of my son,” said Dvorin, who retired from the New Brunswick police department just months before Seth’s death after an almost 30-year career in law enforcement.
“I know every time I do something for a soldier, my son is looking over my shoulder saying, ‘Thanks, Dad. Good job, Dad. Keep it up, Pop,’” a choked-up Dvorin told NJJN. “I truly feel I am finishing his mission.”
‘A very high toll’
Reminders of Seth are everywhere: Dvorin is immediate past commander of the Lt. Seth Dvorin Post 972 of the Jewish War Veterans of Marlboro/Manalapan, named after his son. Two years ago, to commemorate Veterans Day, East Brunswick changed the name of the street the soldier once called home to Seth Dvorin Lane and “consequently I can never leave this house,” said the elder Dvorin.
He keeps his son’s medals and the flag that draped his coffin during the funeral — held at the East Brunswick Jewish Center — and burial at Marlboro Cemetery.
“When my son told me he was going to be a commissioned officer, I told him you have honorable intentions, but your timing is wrong,” said Dvorin, who describes himself as “a proud American.”
“I wouldn’t like to see more of our children perish in this war. America’s families have paid a very high toll for this war,” he said.
Dvorin got his start volunteering for the hotline’s sister program, Cop2Cop, to assist police officers in the wake of 9/11. The hotline offers peer counseling, clinical assessment, and assistance to family members and provides all NJ veterans and their families with access to a comprehensive network of mental health providers. All services are free and confidential.
“They used to call it battle fatigue or shell shock,” said Dvorin of PTSD. “They relive being in a war zone and all the tragedies and horrific episodes. For the most part, it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It’s the most horrible thing in the world to train with a fellow soldier, get to know him well, and then he gets killed right beside you.”
Sufferers may have problems sleeping and relating to others, experience flashbacks, have problems with family life and being in crowds, and have a tendency to use drugs and alcohol.
Dvorin said about 30 percent of returning vets experience some degree of PTSD, but some choose to hide it because they would not be allowed to return to such jobs as police officers, firefighters, or emergency medical technicians, or because “there is some degree of machismo” in not letting others know about a mental disorder. The hotline has probably fielded some 5,000 calls since 2005 and currently has 225 vets in counseling, according to Dvorin.
“My feeling is we are sending the best of the best this country has to offer so these men and women deserve the best we have to offer — the best equipment, the best food, and the best support,” said Dvorin. “It doesn’t matter whether you support the war or not, but it is incumbent upon all of us to support our troops.”
To reach the veterans’ hotline or the Vietnam vets support group, call 866-838-7654.