The lone veteran, known to most other Flagler County veterans, has decided it’s time for him to retire in earnest. Sal Rutigliano, a Flagler County Veterans Services officer of 15 years, began his final year of service. On October 1, 2016, he will retire – for real.
Rutigliano and his wife Cindy moved to Flagler County on Columbus Day weekend in 1999.
“I retired from the military in Connecticut where Cindy and I lived,” he said. “When I retired, my wife was like, ‘I’m going back to Florida, you can come.'”
Retirement isn’t good for everyone, and luckily for Flagler County veterans, it wasn’t good for Rutigliano.
“After about two months, I realized that I couldn’t stay at home. I had to find a job,” he said. “I became aware of this position; I requested it; the county hired me; and I started on June 28, 2000. We started in a converted garage across from the old courthouse.
His 30 years of service began after college when he enlisted in the Connecticut Army National Guard.
“I started in the artillery unit,” he said. “I enlisted on St. Patrick’s Day in 1969.”
Initially, he was a traditional guard serving one week per month with two weeks of annual training. He also taught high school English.
“After teaching high school English for eight years, I decided the military was safer,” he joked. “Teaching was no longer teaching.”
He enlisted in the active and reserve guard program. When he retired, he was a sergeant. Maj., the highest enlisted rank.
Having obtained a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in education/media, Rutigliano said that when asked why he did not become an officer, his answer is direct.
“I am not a politician,” he said.
Shortly after completing basic training and advanced individual training, his unit was activated for a Black Panther riot in New Haven in 1970.
“Our unit was among other things in the activated state. We were in downtown New Haven. We were accused by rioters,” he said. “So when people ask me if I’ve been in a fight situation – yes, but not a traditional fight.”
When units prepare to mobilize for the first Gulf War, Rutigliano helps the troops and makes sure families are taken care of. When the soldiers returned, he was there to welcome them home and help explain their benefits.
“After about two months, I realized that I couldn’t stay at home. I had to find a job. Flagler Veterans Services Officer Sal Rutigliano
He currently works with 12,537 veterans in Flagler County. These veterans come from all age groups, with the majority being Vietnam veterans. He estimated that there were about 1,200 World War II veterans.
His job is to assist veterans and their families when applying for benefits, retrieving necessary documents and filing claims. He knows the maze of government bureaucracy. He is also a deputy to the Flagler Veteran Advisory Council.
The Rutiglianos are involved in several organizations, the American Legion being the main one. Cindy is president of the American Legion Auxiliary. That day, she is at a Volusia County Veterans Welfare Center with other volunteers, throwing a Halloween party. The night before, she and her husband were shopping for food and decorations for the party.
After the party, the Rutiglianos’ program included assisting a veteran who eventually moved into the Bella Vista apartments through the HUD/VASH (VA Supported Housing) program. The apartment was not ready when originally planned and he was homeless. Rutigliano began calling to provide temporary accommodation until the apartment was ready.
“I called the American Legion post and they spent four nights at the Red Roof Inn, the VFW paid for four extra nights and the Marine Corps League took care of the rest,” he said.
It’s that kind of care and coordination that county veterans expect from their county duty officer, and one that he makes easy.
Even when interviewed for an article about his life, Rutigliano sees an opportunity to reach out to veterans.
“I keep telling veterans when I talk to groups, you need a copy of your DD2-14 or your waiver first, you need it to apply for a benefit, if you don’t you don’t have it, you have to send it in and we can help you electronically, without it you get nothing from the VA, you can’t even be buried in the VA Cemetery in Jacksonville.
“Also, no matter what you were led to believe or what your spouse thinks, if you get something from the VA on a monthly basis, when you give in, you don’t get a $250 death benefit. is social security. Congress removed that in the VA in 1990.”
He planned his retirement to coincide with the end of the fiscal year; but what will he do on October 2, 2016?
“I’m going to relax,” he said. “My wife and I like to travel a lot so we will be traveling a lot. I have certain hobbies, photography being one of them, so I will be doing more of that. I like fishing – I haven’t fished for a while. years, I just don’t seem to have time for that.