Molokai’s Larry Helm dies, others pledge to carry on his work for veterans
By Malia Zimmerman, Watchdog.org, June 21, 2013
KAUNAKAKAI, MOLOKAI – Larry Helm, a well-known advocate for military veterans on the island of Molokai, has died after a battle with cancer.
Helm, 70, spearheaded the Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans’ effort to build a 3,000-square-foot veterans center on Wharf Road just outside the island’s main town of Kaunakakai. (See related story: ‘Bureaucratic abuse’: Hawaii vets wait a decade for center, services.)
The Vietnam veteran, who long helped other veterans obtain the healthcare and financial services they needed, had no idea of the bureaucracy he’d encounter trying to build the center.
That story began more than a decade ago when Helm and a team of volunteers first tried to get permits for the center. That paper chase took more than seven years — and more than doubled the cost of the project, from $250,000 to over a half a million dollars. Following its complaint in U.S. District Court against Maui County, the non-profit won $200,000 and a mayoral apology, and was allowed to proceed with construction.
After Helm fell ill several weeks ago, his daughter Nichol and his son Michael took over the effort to raise the final $100,000 needed to finish the project in hopes it could be completed in time for their father to see the official opening.
They raised $25,000 at a June fundraiser. While Helm was able to see much of the completed project, there’s still work on the parking lot, sewer system and kitchen appliances ahead.
Helm’s friend U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, gave a speech from the House floor this week about Helm’s heroics. (Video available here.) On Friday, Gabbard said she was deeply saddened to learn of Helm’s death.
“He spent his entire life fighting battles in service to our country, our communities, and our selfless veterans, and he fought courageously in his final battle with cancer,” Gabbard said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this terribly difficult time.”
Gabbard acknowledged what many on the island of Molokai already know: Helm’s absence will be felt among the entire Moloka‘i community and across the state.
Gabbard, a veteran herself, pledged to continue the fight to get the center funded and opened.
“As I promised him when I last saw him a few weeks ago on Molokai, I will continue to work toward fulfilling his dream of opening a veterans center on the island, which will provide much-needed services to veterans and their families,” Gabbard said.
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