Partners Julius Capio,’18, and Tevin Foster,’19, were looking for a story to film in 2022, and got to the point of knocking on doors.
They came across Bravo Foxtrot United Veterans Inc., in Suffolk County, a group dedicated to providing supplies and support to homeless veterans in Suffolk. After some conversations with Executive Director Matthew Simoni and his wife Jade Pinto and shooting some short videos of homeless veterans, they all decided there was a bigger story to tell. Much bigger.
The result, after eight months of work, is the documentary “Long Island’s Forgotten Heroes,” which examines the lives of some of Suffolk’s homeless veterans, the issues with which they struggle, Bravo Foxtrot’s efforts to assist them, and their push to increase awareness of veterans’ needs. More than that, it is a call to action to create widespread, uniform support that meets the unique needs of veterans. The documentary aired at Farmingdale State College February 15, to an audience of about 100.
Capio said he was hopeful students were in the audience. “I’ve gone full circle. We (he and Foster) went into the same area. It’s also great to inspire kids and show the talent coming out of FSC.”
Foster, FSC’s Digital Content Producer, said he wants to tell stories that can make a difference. “The main message is kindness,” Foster said of the documentary. “Just help those who need help.” After meeting Simoni and his wife, they plunged into a full documentary. “I have never met two people so dedicated to helping other people,” Foster added.
The film showed veterans living in camps in the woods receiving food, clothing, and other supplies from Bravo Foxtrot volunteers and some going to government agencies for help finding a job or applying for benefits. Many continue to struggle with the transition back to civilian life. As one noted, the military trained them to be killers. “How can you un-train them?” he asked. “It takes years. There are no jobs for killers.”
Veterans and other viewers praised the film. “It shows the hidden horror that can exist without knowledge or understanding,” said Fred Blumlein, an advisor/consultant to Bravo Foxtrot, and a Vietnam veteran, who called the film “brilliant.” “It raises awareness of the problem,” he continued. “If it’s not brought to the public’s attention, it doesn’t exist. This is a vehicle for solving the problem.”
Eric Spinner, a Vietnam-era veteran who spent six years in the National Guard and belongs to multiple veterans’ organizations, said anyone who sees the film will not be able to avoid understanding the problem of homeless veterans. “It must be a call to action.”
The veterans’ stories were moving, according to two students. “The film did a good job of showing the problem,” said Ingris Luna, ‘24. “It taught me a lot.” Added Kelvin Hernandez, ’24, “It makes me feel like helping out more.”
Members of the New Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, who attended the screening, donated $1,000 to Bravo Foxtrot and the New Hyde Park Veterans of Foreign Wars Post donated $200.
The film opens up the conversation about veterans and homelessness, Capio noted. Nathan Zwikelmaier,’18, a U.S. Army veteran and acting director of FSC Veterans Services, agreed. “This is an opportunity to learn about a problem we don’t know about and don’t want to think about,” he said. While homelessness is not unique to veterans, people assume there is a safety net for them, but it is not always as wide as it needs to be. “Not enough is being done to help them transition out of the service and get help for disabilities,” Zwikelmaier said. “They are going from being completely structured to being on their own.”
FSC has the highest percentage of veterans for the size of its student body of any of the SUNY campuses. The College has 229 veterans utilizing military benefits which includes 10 dependents and 30 national guard members and reservists.
Applying for benefits for homeless veterans is especially arduous, said Carrie-Ann Gonzalez, an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Visual Communications at FSC and a veteran. Gonzalez served five years in the U.S. Navy as a photographer and seven years in the reserves. She volunteers at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, helping veterans fill out applications for service-connected and government benefits, because many of them are unsure of where to start the process.
“Every veteran can get disability benefits,” Gonzalez said. People need to realize that when it comes to helping veterans adjust and deal with paperwork, more patience is needed, she added.
After the film, Simoni said he is grateful for all the work Foster and Capio put in: “They are two ambitious, talented, young men. I can’t say enough about them—we’re lucky to have met them.”
The stories of the veterans in the documentary mirror his own, Simoni said. After serving 10 years in the U.S. Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom and in other campaigns, he returned home to Virginia and battled depression, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before his marriage fell apart and he lost his home. After more than a year of homelessness, he moved to Long Island to stay with a relative, met Pinto, and his life began to turn around.
Simoni and Pinto already are talking with Foster and Capio about a follow-up film, one that would chronicle a volunteer working with a veteran from the first meeting, through the process of them connecting with services to reach their goals, or if they didn’t, examine why.
In the meantime, Simoni and others are aiming to show “Long Island’s Forgotten Heroes” to as many people as possible. Another showing is scheduled for March 22 at Cinema Arts Center in Huntington
“I wish we could show this movie all over,” Gonzalez said. “I really hope it brings a certain awareness and patience from the public and veterans themselves.”