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Local veteran installed in hall of fame

Sen. Grisanti presents Joseph Ruszala with his 2014 Hall of Fame award.

HAMBURG — New York State Senator Mark Grisanti announced that Joseph Ruszala of Hamburg was honored in Albany this week, as part of a ceremony that recognizes military veterans of New York being named to this year’s class of the New York State Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame.

“I am thrilled to honor Joe, based on his dedication and hard work in our community,” said Grisanti. “Joe is a role model and I am proud to nominate him for this honor because of the many contributions have made and continues to make in the community.”

On a particular night while under attack as a young 25th Infantry Division soldier in Vietnam, Ruszala wondered if he would make it home alive and if he made it home, what his life would become. Nearly 40 years later, he is making a difference in Western New York. Following his retirement from a local company, he began volunteering with veteran service organizations, wanting to do something to help veterans of all generations.

Ruszala began to facilitate relationships among community members and military veterans in need. He participated with other Vietnam veterans with their group “Pathfinders” that collaborated with the Department of Veteran Affairs on outreach events. From these events, he would individually often follow up with community partners, bringing veterans in need to their services, particularly veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

According to the veteran, After Vietnam, Ruszala found much comfort from his pets and knowing this, had an idea to get OIF/OEF and other veterans coping with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder paired up with supportive animals. He and others partnered with local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and created a program called “Dog Tags Niagara.” Veterans and staff work with each other to emotionally heal wounded animals that, in turn, provides healing for the veterans.

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