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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs. Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

An oath for life, and to give your life, is one of the most solemn gifts one can offer to their country and to another. Medically retired Army Sergeant Jennifer Gonzalez and her husband have offered theirs, and it has not come without a high cost.

Jennifer was only 17 when she joined the Army. A recruiter contacted her, and Jennifer became interested in the medical field. Although Jennifer knew of her family’s history of military service, she would be the first and only female from her family to serve. “I thought joining the military sounded cool,” said Jennifer. “And I was spontaneous and liked to take risks.”

During her 11 years with the Army Reserves, Jennifer had one deployment to Iraq that forever changed her. Suffering from post-traumatic stress. Jennifer was medically retired.

Because of her disability, her husband is now also her caregiver, while also dealing with his own transition from military service. When the family moved to a smaller town, Jennifer’s husband found it hard to find a job, especially one that was comparable to his previous job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Without a second income, Jennifer and her husband soon found themselves in financial stress. When Jennifer received a disconnect notice from the electric company, the couple reached out to Operation Homefront for help with their monthly bills.

Thanks to generous donors, Jennifer and her family will not have their power disconnected. Not only was Operation Homefront able to pay Jennifer’s utility bill, but also paid her auto insurance payment and provided food assistance.
Jennifer is not alone. In 2017, Operation Homefront received 1,900 requests from veterans across the nation that needed help with their utilities. Additionally, over 1,300 veterans needed help providing food for their families, and over 1,300 service members requested help with their auto payment and insurance. With two more months left in 2018, we are on track to see the same, if not more, especially with the recent natural disasters hitting heavily populated military areas, such as the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“I am so appreciative and grateful to Operation Homefront’s donors who help military families without another place to turn to,” said Jennifer. “We had no family to turn to for help. It is very humbling to ask for help, but we are so grateful. Your donors think of others after the fact (completion of service).”

“Operation Homefront is a great organization,” continued Jennifer. “My caseworker Erik was great to work with. There are a lot of emotions a veteran feels when they are transitioning; it can be shameful to ask for help and very hard to do, especially for veterans who are very independent. I never felt like I was treated differently.”

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at http://www.operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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Deidrick Caesar, who exited the Air Force in late 2017 after 15 years of service and five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer worries about providing a home for his wife, 12-year-old daughter and new baby due this month.

Deidrick, his wife, Lissette, and daughter, Lianna, were one of the first families to move into a new home constructed under Operation Homefront’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration (THCR) program. The new program, made possible by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, was designed as a gateway for stability so veteran families can remain strong, stable and secure after their military service.

During his Air Force career, Deidrick served as a medical technician. He enlisted in 2002, first deployed in 2005, and deployed for the last time in 2014. His experiences range from working in the intense, trying environment of the emergency room or intensive care unit at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to being the noncommissioned officer in charge at the neonatal intensive care unit at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

As Deidrick prepared to leave the Air Force on short notice after narrowly missing promotion requirements to E-6, he and Lissette were concerned about transitioning, particularly affording housing after losing steady income. Due to his experience downrange, Deidrick receives compensation for a 50-percent Veterans Affairs disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But with a baby boy on the way, and Deidrick needing to finish his degree before changing careers, they weren’t sure how to find their way forward. Thanks to THCR, they now feel reassured they won’t lose their footing. “It’s kind of a big deal … that a paycheck won’t be coming in,” he said. “It’s … a struggle just to come to terms with what am I going to do now. How are we going to survive?”

While living in the roughly 2,000-square-foot home in the Helotes area of San Antonio, technically rent-free, they will pay utilities and make an additional monthly payment. OH will refund them the total amount of the additional monthly payments when they graduate in two to three years from the program, which also provides financial counseling to assist families with saving, paying off debt and improving credit. The Caesars can use that refund for a down payment on a home or other needs.

The Caesars are grateful that Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation are a major part of the solution that will lead to self-sufficiency. “This is probably the biggest blessing so far,” Deidrick said. “It’s a great feeling. That’s what everyone dreams of, being able to … buy a house … having a place we can call home.”

Deidrick acknowledges that working in trauma care took its toll over time. “Most of my deployments were rough,” Deidrick said. “I’ve seen all the soldiers and the coalition forces and even detainees come through with massive injuries.”

He also endured a health scare of his own that led to a major surgery in 2016. While imaging a blood clot found in 2015, doctors discovered a mass that was growing. Fearing it might be cancerous, they removed it, which required a 56-centimeter incision in his back and gluteus and 72 staples. The mass was benign but doctors continue to monitor Deidrick, who was a patient at the same hospital where he used to work. He could not walk for about six weeks and needed six months of physical therapy at Brook Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid.

Deidrick was anxious while waiting to find out if the mass was cancerous because both of his parents died of cancer about 13 years apart in the 2000s.

Through it all, Deidrick has maintained a positive attitude and outlook. He sees a mental health care provider regularly for problems sleeping. He also stays active, working out, running 5K and 10K races, hiking and volunteering when he can.

“Always, I’m that type to look on the bright side. In my eyes, I always feel like I can overcome anything. … My wife, on the other hand, she might not have seen it that way. To be able to ease her mind, especially with a baby on the way, it makes me that much more happy that we have this opportunity to get help and to better ourselves for the future.”

Deidrick could work as an emergency medical technician, but after witnessing so much death and serious injury, he would like to shift focus and become an athletic trainer, working to prevent injuries or rehabilitate those who have been hurt. As a sports fan, particularly for teams from his hometown area of New Orleans, his dream job would be working for a professional sports team, but he is open to helping anywhere he can, including possibly supporting the military.

Using his post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, Deidrick is taking classes toward his associate degree at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. He would then like to transfer to University of Texas at San Antonio for kinesiology, the science of body movement.

Deidrick, who had hoped to stay in the Air Force until he was eligible to retire, said it “hurt at the time,” when he had to get out, making the adjustment to civilian life difficult. The Air Force was all he had known since he was 19. “It becomes you,” he said. Still, he believes “everything happens for a reason.” “Maybe … it’s time for me to do something different.”

Someday when the family is more settled, Lissette would like to finish her bachelor’s degree, started at University of Miami, where she also worked as a pharmacy technician. She now works as a business analyst for a health care company.

Lissette heard about THCR on the local evening news on channel 4, NBC affiliate WOAI. Deidrick said they hardly ever watch the news, and it was a “stroke of a good luck” that Lissette happened to be home and tuned in at that time. Ordinarily, she would have accompanied Deidrick to the gym at that time of day, he said. When Deidrick returned home, she told him about the program, and they felt it was meant to be. They decided to “go for it.”

The Caesars feel fortunate to be moving into a home that is larger than their apartment, with more space to spread out, which will make everyone more comfortable once the baby arrives.

Operation Homefront “definitely helps … open doors and gives families an opportunity to get on their feet … to set them up for success after the military,” Deidrick said. People may think they don’t have anywhere to turn, “but with organizations like Operation Homefront, you always have help … to stop you from falling too far to where you feel like you’re hopeless.”

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

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Willie Simpson, Army Reserves Sergeant, has lived his life serving his country.  His story reflects what we see in so many who see their purpose in service to country.

Willie’s service spans 4 decades, having first joined the Marine Corps in 1979. Tragically, his time with the Marines when Willie was shot and injured while serving as a military policeman. After his recovery, Willie was unable to return to his duties as a military policeman. But that did not stop Willie’s quest to serve.

He approached the Army, and though the Army determined that Willie was not well enough to be in infantry, he was able to cross-train into the supply career field.

But the pain and impact of his injuries lingered, and after a time, Willie was processed out of the military. Undeterred, Willie enjoyed serving his country and working in government jobs that supported the military, and at one point, was working four jobs. All of this took time from his family and was extremely stressful on Willie. But he never lost sight of his desire to serve.

After he was completely recovered from his injuries, Willie reenlisted in the military. In 2008, while getting ready to deploy, Willie received more life altering news: a medical exam discovered an atrioventricular (AV) block. The surgeon general determined that Willie could should not even attempt to do the physical training (PT) test, let alone anything more strenuous, and that, to survive, he needed to lessen the stress in his life. Willie’s mission to serve our country seemed more in jeopardy than ever.

But by 2009, Willie felt better, so he took a PT test and scored the minimum score to get into combat medic training. At 52, Willie was the oldest in his class. “It was a rough course,” said Willie. “I had a cold and back issues, then I started having chest pains. I got sicker and sicker and weaker.” The school sent Willie home to get better, but he never returned.

“I never went back to the combat medic school,” said Willie. Willie’s health continued to decline and he found himself stuck in Georgia having to use crutches or a wheelchair to get around. He suffered from stress, post-traumatic stress, and sleep apnea. Then his wife got sick and was diagnosed with pre-dementia.

Because Willie had transferred to several different guard units and service branches during his 31 years of service, some of his paperwork got lost—including paperwork documenting his injuries. For eight months, Willie did not receive a paycheck. Then he would be paid for a period of time. Then he went into another no pay-status. During this time Willie’s car was repossessed.

Willie has been trying to medically process out of the military since 2010. In 2015, he received a medical board evaluation, but now he must wait for the Veterans Affairs to evaluate his case and begin his disability pay. He has been living off his savings, his wife’s disability pay, and using his 401K plan. When his landlord threatened to evict him, Willie reached out to Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance program for help. Operation Homefront paid Willie’s rent and utility bills.

Willie has a special message for Operation Homefront’s donors. “This was stressing me out. I am so thankful to OH. I had no one to turn to. My landlord was pushing me, but I can’t move because of my credit scores. I really needed Operation Homefront, and I have seen others that OH has helped.”

“Organizations like Operation Homefront really help … soldiers,” said Willie.

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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Our veterans have given so much of themselves to an idea greater than themselves, and many of you have honored that gift through your support of our mission.  On the last day of our “11 Days, 11 Stories” series, we would like to show you how your support has impacted thousands of military and veteran families.  This support has truly made a difference, and we are encouraged, daily, by the efforts to give back to those who give so much of themselves.

Having seen his brothers serving in the Marines, Petero Taufagu felt inspired to serve as well. Born in Pago, Pago, American Samoa, he decided to enlist in the Army in 1993. Petero spent sixteen years in the Army, deploying multipe times including three tours to Iraq. In 2007, he was medically retired and began a new chapter in the expereince of many who serve: transition.

After he left the Army, Petero, his wife and five children moved from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. During the move their 2004 BMW broke down and with their limited funds, they fell into financial hardship. Petero’s mother had passed, so their savings were gone, leaving the family without money for their auto repair, security deposit, rent and food.

Having only one vehicle, the Taufagu family was not only experiencing financial stress but major logistic challenges. They had to coordinate dropping all five children as school as well as being two working adults. Petero’s wife had to work around his schedule. It was then when Petero was referred to Operation Homefront by the Warriors Transition Unit.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and generous donors, Petero paid off and repaired his car, as well as getting some breathing room with housing costs and groceries for his family.

“Thank you,” said Taufagu,” We had limited funds due to the move and my mother’s passing, and you guys made it happen.”

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Petero Taufagu was the recent recipient of a new Jeep Cherokee, thanks to our partnership with American Airlines.

Transition from service is a challenging time for veterans, and especially so for veterans also coping with injuries and illnesses as a result of their service.  Many times, just one financial crisis can mean the difference between continuing towards a strong, stable and secure future and a setback that can take years to overcome.  Our Critical Financial Assistance program, as well as our transitional housing villages, stands ready to help when these families need it the most.  Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $21 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests*, including:

  • Providing rent-free temporary housing to more than 500 families of wounded service members, saving them over $5-million in rent and utilities though our Transitional Housing program;
  • Matching nearly 600 military families with mortgage-free homes through our Homes on the Homefront program, providing well over $56-million in deeded value;
  • Delivering over a quarter million backpacks to military kids through our Back-to-School Brigade; 
  • Serving nearly 70,000 military families through our Holiday Meals for Military program,  a program that has  impacted over 300,000 individual family members since inception.  In 2017, we will be hosting families at 32 events in 20 states, serving thousands more.

This Veterans Day, we encourage everyone to show their gratitude for the gift of freedom given to us by the centuries of service of our nation’s veterans. Send a message of thanks or stories with #RaiseYourHand. Send us your pictures and videos that show your support for our military, our country and why you answer the call! Together, united, let’s show our American pride and show some love for those who give so much to make our country great!

If you would like to help support families like the Taufagu family, you can support one of our current needs or check out more ways to give here.

If volunteering is high on your list of ways to give back, we welcome you to see the ways to Get Involved with Operation Homefront.

* numbers through Summer 2017

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An unexpected expense would usually not be an issue for Air Force veteran Martin Scammel and his wife, Alice. But the series of emergencies that hit them this year was not normal and not planned.

Martin Two of usMartin Scammel has over 23 years of service spanning from the Vietnam War to Iraqi Freedom. After high school, Martin joined the Army in July 1972 because he wanted to be a helicopter mechanic. After a ceasefire was declared, Martin left the Army in 1975.

Later, Martin decided to join the Air National Guard, and then he enlisted in the Air Force. “Martin enjoyed what he was doing,” said his wife Alice. “He liked traveling, meeting people, and learning about different cultures.”

His time in the military took Martin to Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Ord, California; Landstuhl, Germany; and Diego Garcia, to name a few. Martin also had deployments to France, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. It was in Iraq that Martin was wounded and medically retired from the Air Force in March 2007 with a 100% disability rating.

The Scammels had been successful financially during their transition to civilian life. But earlier this year, Alice fell and broke her arm; she was out of work for three months with no pay. Between the physical therapy and surgery, the couple’s emergency savings was depleted.

Then a hail storm came through their area. The Scammel’s roof was damaged to the point that it needed to be completely replaced. Their homeowner’s insurance would cover the damage; however, the Scammels had depleted their savings and did not have the money to cover the $5,000 deductible.

Martin and Alice

Martin reached out to Wounded Warrior Project for help. WWP suggested that Martin reach out to Operation Homefront and apply for assistance. “I thought I was filling out an application to get a no,” said Alice. “Before my caseworker called, I was thinking that I would say it’s OK that you couldn’t help, and I was trying to come up with another way.”

“My caseworker Virginia was so very nice,” said Alice. “Virginia spoke to USAA, and then Operation Homefront sent the money to the contractor. Virginia was a godsend.”

“Please tell your donors thank you,” said Alice. “My husband has given so much of (his) life to the  military. We had an emergency fund. Martin was always there for his country and others when needed (and now) Martin has a lot of health issues and had some post traumatic-stress injuries…it was so nice to have someone say ‘we are going to help you now’.”

“Everybody at Operation Homefront has been so nice,” said Alice. “The process was not hard. Virginia was nice, supportive, and helpful. We are not used to asking for money. Virginia made us feel comfortable. This is not a position we like to be in. With Operation Homefront, it did not seem like a handout but rather a hand up.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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As part of our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, we are spotlighting the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront:

by Christy O’Farrell

Chris Rasmussen, an Army veteran who served five tours of duty over 16 years, has been adjusting to civilian life since 2014. At times, he still feels out of his element as a full-time student deciding on a new career, and a single father of two daughters.

“It takes a while to transition into the civilian world after doing something for so long,” said Chris, 38, dad to Savannah, 12; and Brielle, 8. “It’s hard to change. It’s like making a huge, major career change in mid-life.”

But he’s optimistic about the path he’s on, despite feeling like a fish out of water compared to other students and parents. Chris expects to graduate in December 2017 from Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with an associate degree in science, and transfer to University of Colorado, Western State Colorado University or University of Denver.

“It’s just deciding what I want to do and where I want to go,” he said, noting that he desires a career he’s passionate about, and is considering geography, or fields that would involve fighting erosion, wildfires or invasive species.

As tough as that is, pursuing the right occupation can be less daunting than raising two preteen girls. Their mother lives in Seattle, and visits usually every two to three months, Chris said. His two sisters and a long-time babysitter help him with the girls sometimes. “It’s hard for them,” he said. “I mean they’re being raised by a man.”

Chris also has received support along the way from groups such as Operation Homefront and the Wounded Warrior Project.

He received about $100 worth of groceries and a grocery gift card at Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military event in Fountain, Colorado, in December 2016. “It was really smooth,” he said about the food distribution. “You were there for under a minute. That’s how fast it was.” OH staff and volunteers were “real cordial and polite,” he said.

OH also gave him a $50 gift card to buy Christmas gifts. Chris had planned to retire from the Army after serving 20 years, but had to retire early, as a sergeant first class, for medical reasons. He receives payments from the Veterans Affairs Department, but when they are delayed, “it starts to spiral from there when you’re on a fixed income,” he said. “OH came in and helped me out of a tough spot.” He doesn’t want his daughters to worry about finances. “They shouldn’t stress about any of that stuff. That’s adult stuff.”

Having been a mechanic in the Army, Chris had worked at a car dealership in the parts department. He had to resign because it required him to lift and move heavy motors and transmissions, activities outside his limitations with two fractured vertebrae and other injuries. But it wasn’t just the physical demands that made the job a poor fit. Chris felt the work didn’t measure up, compared to what he had been used to. “It’s not worth it,” he said. In the Army, he felt he had “a bigger cause and a bigger reason than yourself” to put up with hardships that were lacking in the job at the car dealership. “I’m not going to hurt myself more for some guy who’s just making an extra buck off me,” he said.

“Civilians are different than Army people,” Chris continued. “I liked the service and I liked working together to solve problems with other like-minded people. When you have a problem in the Army, you all come together no matter what you look like or where you came from, you’re all the same.

“Your work has meaning. It’s purposeful. You’re driven. It’s different in the civilian side trying to find that same thing.”

Until he finds the right job, Chris says it makes more sense, financially, for him to care for his daughters, rather than getting a part-time job and paying $1,200 a month for before- and after-school care. “Daycare is ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t afford that. I’d be going to work just to pay for daycare.”

Not the type to sit on a bench looking at his phone when he takes his daughters to the park, Chris plays on the swings with them and chases them around. “I interact with my kids,” who play soccer, softball and volleyball, and love to fish, he said. They all like to take advantage of their beautiful surroundings. Last summer, they went white-water rafting, zip lining and rappelling. In the winter, they’ve gone skiing and snowboarding.

Since it has been difficult to find the right job, Chris focuses on his education instead. Most of the other students in his classes are 18 or 19 years old, and complain about homework. They “don’t know what hard is,” he said, adding: “Writing a paper is not that big of a deal,” compared to other challenges he has faced.

Chris enlisted in 1999, was based in Germany for four years, served a year in Korea, and also was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Polk, Louisiana. His first deployment was in 2003-04 to Iraq, followed by two more tours to Iraq and two tours to Afghanistan, the last in 2011-12, for a total of more than five years deployed. Only about 1.5 percent of the 403,171 soldiers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between September 2001 and December 2011 served cumulative totals of five or more years, according to a 2013 Rand Corp. report, “Measuring Army Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Chris sustained multiple injuries over the course of his deployments. He had his right kidney removed after his ureter collapsed, causing blockage and a bad infection. Though he noticed difficulty urinating, he “didn’t think much of it and kept going.” At one point, his fever spiked to 105 degrees. “I almost died because I was stupid and kept working.”

Having “been around a lot of explosions,” he also has endured a bad concussion, broke his foot, and required reconstructive knee surgery. “I messed up my back, messed up my neck. I beat up my body pretty good.”

He can’t run marathons anymore, but he likes to hike, and he goes to the gym to “keep the weight off,” and because he knows mental health is linked to physical fitness. “I feel bad when I don’t” exercise, he said.

He hopes he can factor his love of the outdoors into his new career, while also steering clear of vocations that often attract other veterans — law enforcement and border patrol.

“I did all these things in the Army. I rappelled out of helicopters and stuff. I can’t go to sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer. I’ll probably go insane. I have to interact with people, and I like being outside.

“I don’t ever want to be put in a position where I have to take a life, or see anything like that,” he said. “I’ve already done that and I’ve already seen it, the worst of it. I couldn’t imagine having to clean up a car accident after teenage kids. I’ve seen enough in my time, and I don’t want to see anymore.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own.

Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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There is a scene early in the movie Thank You for Your Service where one of the main characters, Sgt. Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett), and two children are sitting in a café after Sgt. Schumann’s homecoming from his tour in Iraq. Saskia is upset because she wanted the homecoming to be “perfect” and felt that the presence of the widow of Schumann’s squad member, James Doster, may have put an emotional strain on him. Sgt. Schumann assures her that his day was perfect, as he is home with “all of his pieces” and enjoying being with her and their two children.

The calm before the storm.

What one sees for the next hour or more is what happens to many military families after the bands stop playing and the flags stop waving. The reality is that homecoming and re-integration for too many of our veterans is far from perfect. That despite having all of their limbs, they return in emotional and spiritual pieces and spend years try to put them all back together.
If they survive long enough.

Statistically, 20 veterans a day are taking their own lives. Thank You for You Service is an attempt to reveal why from the eyes of a trio of squad members who return from Iraq during the surge years and is based on the bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author David Finkel.

Throughout the film, we are shown, often in a blunt, in-your-face manner, the path that leads many of our combat veterans to that dark place where it becomes a matter of “choosing time and place” to make it all stop.

One of the three, Billy Waller (Joe Cole) reaches that dark place quickly. He returns not to open arms of his fiancée, but to an empty home. All of his belongings are gone, his fiancée won’t respond to his repeated and increasingly desperate phone calls. After a night at the bar with his friends, Sgt. Schumann and Specialist Tausolo “Solo” Aieti (Beulah Koale), Billy wakes up and goes to confront his fiancée at her job. Rebuffed by her, he pulls out a handgun and takes his life in front of her.

It takes more time for Adam and Solo to get to their dark place, but they do. The film shows the slow, relentless wearing down of their spirit as they combat survivor’s guilt, isolation, loss of purpose, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear and desperation. The two face insurmountable obstacles when they do try to reach out for help. A packed waiting room at the VA, the counter on the wall slowing and interminably ticking up into the 200s, the bored manner in which the clerk at the counters hands Sgt. Schumann his “welcome packet” and the shock of the 6-9 month wait for mental health care, the resigned way a counselor informs an incredulous and angry Saskia that there are too few beds and thousands needing help. In one heartbreaking scene, Specialist Aieti, literally vibrating on the edge of breakdown, is told he needs to prove his presence in the more than half dozen events where he sustained concussive injuries before the VA will approve service connection.

When one hears “Thank You for Your Service”, we understand it to mean that one’s sacrifices are acknowledged and appreciated. In this film, it means something entirely different. It seems to mean, “We got what we needed from you…so… Best of luck to you. You’re on your own.”

Towards the end of the film, the two men, Schumann and Aieti, seem to recognize they have hit rock bottom and begin to take the steps they need to truly return home. Aieti is last seen on his way to long-term treatment, in a bed waiting for Schumann, but who in one more act of looking out for his men, gives it up because Aieti needs it more. Schumman himself finds a sort of absolution in finally visiting another severely injured member of their squad who he felt he had failed, and in confessing his guilt to the widow of SFC Doster.

It’s not a textbook happy ending, but it ends with hope. Perhaps that hope is that by seeing Thank You for You Service , civilians will begin to truly understand what is meant by the high cost of freedom, and will help relieve the moral burden carried by our nation’s veterans.

No longer should they carry that alone.

We were able to connect with David Finkel, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post editor, whose book inspired the movie, “Thank You for Your Service.” When asked whether “thank you for your service” is the best thing to say to a veteran, he responded: “I guess the better thing to do is to ask a question, like you would of anyone you’re interested in having a conversation with. The problem a lot of service members have with someone who says thank you for your service is that it seems an easy thing to say and doesn’t convey actual interest in the person. Not everyone feels that way, but a lot do.”

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We’re honored to be included as a list of resources for military and veteran families as part of the film’s outreach. See more at www.thankyouforyourservicemovie.com/civilians and find a list of resources that can help us help each other

The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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