In September 2018, a team of five blinded veterans kayaked the Grand Canyon, a journey of 226 miles that took twelve days. Their guides, men and women, were also veterans. At least one of the blinded vets had a prosthesis. A friend sent me a link to the video, filmed by Google Maps. It’s an understatement to say the commitment, stamina and resilience of all these vets is inspiring.
Guide Eric Guzman says, “Nobody comes home from war the same. We have physical wounds, but mental wounds as well.” Guide Kathy Champion adds, “We’re all healing together.”
It makes me think of their separate journeys through the military and transitioning back into civilian life. So many factors play into how well that goes. Their experiences in the military of course, the nature of their wounds, mental and/or physical as well as other factors.
Here at the National Veterans Foundation’s Lifeline for Vets, we field calls from veterans making the transition. We know how critical it is for them to have the support they need right from the get-go. Those first few weeks and months can set the tone for the whole transition through to integration back into society.
Vets need immediate access to the medical and mental health benefits they’ve earned. The VA is a large, unwieldy system, a whitewater of bureaucracy. Add to that, their need to find meaningful work and a community to be a part of. Guzman’s right: nobody ever came home from war the same. Returning to friends and family, changed from the person who left, can be fraught with difficulties.
We act as guides, helping them navigate the VA to access their benefits, helping them connect with whatever other resources they need. Every case is unique, and every case shares similarities. Our database of resources is nation-wide. No matter what zip code the call comes from, we have something that can help. Best, our counselors are resourceful. We don’t give up. It’s all about connecting people to people who can help.
We often hear how much vets miss the camaraderie of the military. On the Grand Canyon kayaking trip, one of the vets says, “In the military your lives are dependent on the people around you. And that extends out here.”
It extends out here at the NVF, too. A connection at the right time can tap into the strength and resilience a vet depended on in the military. That’s got to feel familiar, and good.
It’s long been our goal to have the Lifeline open and available 24/7. Because life is like running those rapids. It doesn’t run in an orderly 9-to-5 way. If you can help us get there, many would be grateful.
Last, If you know a vet who needs help, here’s our toll-free Lifeline for Vets number: 888.777.4443
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The worst part of war should not be coming home.