UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – Nowadays, Veterans represent around 7 percent of the U.S. population, and many of them eventually run their own business for a living, making Veteran businesses an important segment of the U.S. economy.

However, it is also overlooked and has very thin profit margins. What’s worse, pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have pinched on many of the 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S.

Today I talked to Peter Dziedzic, a navy veteran who used to run a successful small business but eventually found his home at Utica Center For Development and now finding fulfillment as a peer support coordinator.

“I did that for 15 years. I had my own welding business. And 2019 Covid hit. Unfortunately, I was one of the small businesses that suffered from Covid. So I have to shut down my business, I completely shut down the life I knew it in Long Island. And I always know this is home. Utica, this is where I was born and raised. This is where my family is. If I want to participate in veteran functions, events, I want to do it in my hometown. I moved back to Utica, I was homeless. I was working as a welder at a local company here. I was staying in my Jeep, Monday through Friday and I would stay in a hotel on weekends. And I did that from August to December of 2019. And one day I was searching on the Internet looking for help from the veteran community. I sent an email to this veteran outreach center. I got an email in return from blake Arcuri saying come here today we can help you out. I was able to get a house, getting a roof over my head.”

Dziedzic now lives in a one-bedroom apartment with a $500 fee per month.

He now works as a peer support coordinator. Dziedzic talks to veteran residents here on a daily basis to help them be open up and engaged to alleviate mental illness.

“What do you think makes veterans suffer the most after retiring from the navy or army?”

“I would say post-dramatic stress is probably the most common illness that a veteran would suffer from. PTSD. When a ship goes on deployment, we see that’s usually in the navy is where the highest suicide rates kind of trend upward. And I remember one situation we had a female jump overboard on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and it was our goal and mission to go out and do with our best possibilities to save and rescue the individual. Unfortunately, that was the one time that we weren’t able to. And we did everything right. But there are just elements that were not in our favor to be able to find the person. And that was probably the thing that held a lot of weight. So, things like that carry a lot of weight. And it took me a while to get over that,” he said.

For a lot of veterans that share the same burden from the past, Dziedzic said the best way to move forward is through daily conversation within the peer support groups.

“Having that one-on-one conversation about veteran experience, not war stories. We are not sitting here on a Monday talking about a war story. We are here to help you get a better life. What do you need to get through today? Focus on the moment,” he said.