FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. - Even though they are usually not the type of people to ask for help, Marian Rytkonen and her family needed a hand.
The 99-year-old World War II veteran was facing eviction from her nursing home after a trusted caretaker allegedly embezzled her life savings and payments she should have gotten from the Department of Veterans Affairs were stuck in bureaucratic limbo.
After connecting with Rytkonen’s son via Facebook about a month ago, the Cumming-based Shadow Warrior Foundation and its president, Ryan Hepworth, felt they had to answer the family’s call for help.
“Typically, veterans like her from the 'greatest generation’ don’t have to deal with this,” Hepworth said. “She fell through the cracks.”
During the war, Rytkonen served as a recruiter until 1945, when her husband’s plane was shot down in France, Hepworth said. While her husband managed to survive the war, he was injured, and Rytkonen left the service to care for him.
Seventy-five years later, with her savings gone, Rytkonen tried to collect the VA benefits she never knew she was owed. They would have paid for her to remain in The Oaks nursing home in Cumming.
But more than eight months after Rytkonen applied for the benefits, Hepworth said the veteran still had not received any aid from the federal agency.
With a looming eviction date of July 15, Hepworth’s organization and state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, banded together to create a Facebook fundraiser that would pay Rytkonen’s living expenses until the VA benefits kick in.
Dolezal’s post in the Focus on Forsyth County Ga. group generated more than $3,000 in the first hour and more than $9,000 overall. The lawmaker said the large number of donors, 196 in all, reveals the true generosity of his community.
“We all collectively remember D-Day and World War II. I’ve been reading about it lately and what the ‘greatest generation’ did for us,” Dolezal said. “Generosity is a natural response to gratitude, and I think this reflects the gratitude we felt remembering D-Day” earlier this month.
The money raised will go directly to pay for Rytkonen’s living expenses and should keep her at the nursing home for at least another two months, Hepworth said.
In the meantime, the organization and U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, are working to expedite Rytkonen’s benefits.
Both Hepworth and Dolezal said the veteran and her family were not the type of people to ask for help, but the dire situation called for it.
“I was beautifully stunned by the response. I thought it was audacious to do this for a person we had never met,” Dolezal said. “This bridged all of the differences we may have.”
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