Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 8:11 pm | Fair 51º

 
 
 
 

fStop Foundation Helping America’s Youngest Veterans

America’s post-9/11 war on terror is our nation’s longest engagement, 15 years and counting. More than 2 million of America’s service personnel have been combat deployed, over 54,000 have been wounded in combat, and 7,000 have been kill in action. The Veterans Administration has treated more than 900,000 veterans for issues relating to their service in this war.

The result of this sustained engagement is that many young American veterans are returning to their families and communities with both physical and psychological difficulties. As a nation we lose 20 veterans of every generation and campaign to suicide each day. Tragically, this community lost another young Marine veteran to suicide just this month.

Throughout my three-year tour at MCB Camp Pendleton helping wounded marines and sailors (I was embedded with Alpha Company of the Wounded Warrior Battalion West, leading the fStop Warrior Project, a digital photography art therapy program for wounded marines and sailors), I quickly learned that the majority of the servicemen and women I worked with suffered from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD).

According to some estimates, 320,000 young veterans suffer from TBI and 400,000 are coping with PTSD. These are not physical wounds, rather they are Moral Injuries of War. Service members and their families must learn how to carry these burdens of war for the rest of their lives.

These invisible injuries are what Sebastian Junger describes as a loss of identity in his latest publication, Tribe, resulting in culture shock, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Post military separation, psychological voids, and mental and physical trauma can prevent civilian reintegration and become detrimental to the veteran’s family and community, and potentially dangerous, even deadly, for the veteran.

I for one have lost too many of my friends to their own hands and have attended too many funerals. Enough is enough.

For far too many, the system has failed. VA backlogs and disability claims can take years to resolve. Meanwhile, veteran suicide rates have increased 35 percent since 2001.

In May of this year, some young veteran friends and I stood up a peer support group for post-9/11 veterans which meets every Monday night at the Santa Barbara Veterans Memorial Building. We mean to create a refuge, a community, to provide our veterans access to services earned and to develop the fellowship that will support successful transitions back into the "real world.”

We come together every week to sit and offer support, provide advocacy, share resources, swap stories and talk a little trash, but, most of all, to just be present for each other. We seek to provide a community, a safe place, a refuge, where post-9/11 veterans can socialize and depend on each other in a civilian setting. We do this because we know that it is in the veteran’s DNA to help one another, to be responsible for each other, and to never leave a comrade behind. We believe that providing reconnection with a “tribe” of like-minded individuals offering veteran-to-veteran peer support will keep our friends from becoming another statistic.

Our group is called Fellowship of Brothers (FOB). It’s important to remember that our Sisters who have service, and deployed are also our Brothers.

“Get involved, the world is run those who show up!” is our message. Success is reserved for those who show up. All we ask of our members is to “just show up.” Our message to veterans in the community is, “you are not alone, all you have to do is show up.”

All of us in Santa Barbara County can help. If you wish to “show up” for this community or find out more about our group, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

— Terence Ford represents fStop Foundation.

 
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