Local area veterans dealing with problems such as PTSD, drug addiction, and other mental issues may have a new way to cope with their special needs. Soldier Sanctuary is a non-profit organization run by veterans, for veterans. Their motto is "BY combat vets, FOR combat vets” and the goal is to enable all combat vets to gather together in an informal environment and share experiences and concerns and to have fun and develop comradery. The non-profit organization was founded by VFW Post 845 Lifetime member Thomas Bucci. Bucci retired from the Army after 34 years of service as a Command Sergeant Major. He is a combat veteran of Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
While on active duty, he was involved in numerous construction projects that qualified him for a civilian maintenance job at the Coatesville VA Hospital where he now works as a construction project manager.
At the VA hospital Bucci encountered many veterans and became particularly interested in those who were combat veterans like himself. He understood the difficulties of coping with mental and substance abuse problems. Years ago, he began doing pet therapy where he learned of the cause and effects of soldiers’ difficulties and ailments and the benefits of using canines in their treatment. Unless Covid restrictions prevent it, Bucci still takes service dogs to the hospital every Monday and lets the dogs interact with the patients. Some of the dogs had previously served as bomb detection canines in Iraq and Afghanistan but had been "retired" due to age and wear and tear. Bucci rescued them after they were returned to the USA and through tender loving care, adapted them for a different use -- comforting veterans at the VA hospital. It has become an important part of their treatment.
VA doctors determined that after an extended period of care, certain patients could have a weekend pass to return to their homes. However, a fews patients suffered relapses at home if their problems stemmed from their home environment. Those weekend passes did more harm than good.
Bucci came to the conclusion that those patients would be better off staying at the hospital if he could arrange for an outdoor participation activity. He reasoned that bicycle trips or hikes with fellow veterans could provide a totally informal, non-judgmental environment.
In 2014, Bucci’s first event was a hike in Hibernia Park (Coatesville). The handful of veterans who joined him had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow combat veterans. They all wanted to do it again and participation in his outdoor events exploded. He soon started taking small groups to area battlefields and monuments of military historical significance, like the Battleship New Jersey, the Brandywine Battlefield, Valley Forge, Philadelphia Navy Yard, Fort Mifflin and Gettysburg.
Command Sergeant Major Bucci provided transportation and bought lunch for the veterans our of his own pocket. He didn't mind paying for the outings, but he thought it would be nice if his expenditures were at least tax deductible, so he incorporated "Soldier Sanctuary" and applied for a charitable designation.
In 2017 his organization, Soldier Sanctuary, qualified as a 501(c) 3 charitable organization with the IRS, making donations to his organization tax-deductible. So far, the main contributor to the organization has been Bucci himself.
As more veterans became interested in joining the various excursions, a major problem was transportation. Bucci could not accommodate all who wanted to participate in his personal car. To transport more people, he needed a vehicle with larger seating capacity.
Earlier this year Bucci requested financial help from the post in the form of a cash donation to help purchase a used passenger van. VFW Post 845 donated $2,500 toward that end.
Since Bucci began keeping records in 2014, Soldier Sanctuary has arranged some 500 events including pet therapy at the Coatesville VA Hospital. Through November of 2022 he had conducted some 78 events. At the time of this writing he was preparing to take veterans to the Battleship New Jersey on December 10 to watch the Army-Navy game in a heated tent on the fantail of the battleship. What fun!
Outings in the past have included kayaking, hikes through various parks, bicycling trips through cities, parks, and historic areas, and tours through places like the White House in Washington, D.C. Bucci's organization provides the kayaks and bikes, and he pays for lunch and transportation costs.
The organization strives to get veterans outdoors in an informal atmosphere where the men can talk about their past combat experiences if they choose to do so. Bucci claims the camaraderie the men develop aids in their recovery process.Anyone who is interested in learning more about Soldier Sanctuary can view the organization’s Face Book page by clicking here.
Tom Bucci can be reached by email at SoldierSanctuary@gmail.com or by message at Soldier Sanctuary@Facebook.com.
Soldier Sanctuary has a Facebook page that can be viewed by clicking here.