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Sept/Oct 2020

Derrick Cox There’s Always a Tomorrow - Battling and Defeating Suicide

POW/MIA Recognition Day

The United States will observe POW/MIA Recognition Day on September 18 this year.

Tiffany Horan

Searching For A PTSD Exit

Blue to Gold Star Mothers

Finding Solace In A Community Dedicated to Never Forgetting

TABLE OF CONTENTS 08 September/October 2020

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VA Update - Sexual Assault




Searching For A PTSD Exit


Courageous Survivors


There’s Always A Tomorrow


Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters


Blue to Gold Star Mothers


History of the American Civil War


Nick Dmitruchina


Out of The Darkness Walk


Patriot Day


POW/MIA Recognition Day


PTSD & The Vietnam War


Suicide Among Veterans


92 for 22

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GATHER Media LLC Hannah Bouwmeester - Owner Traverse City, MI 49696, (231) 492-7870




Forward Exposure



Michael W. Roof Amanda Renkiewicz Gaurav Roy Rachael Sherman Hannah Bouwmeester Michael Kent Tanmoy Seth Jayden Designs hannah@gatherveterans.com Visit gatherveterans.com/ subscribe-today to subscribe. Subscription Rates: One Year, 6 issues, $14.95. Allow six weeks for first issue to be received. Note: Veterans can pick up a free copy at various locations. Please email hannah@gatherveterans.com for details in your area. Note: Not all areas serviced.

Copyright @2020 GATHER Media LLC. All rights reserved. Individual works also copyrighted by their originators. Reproduction in whole or in part is strictly prohibited without prior written permission. We do not assume any liability for errors or omissions. GATHER Media LLC does not necessarily endorse any of the attractions, products or services contained within.

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Suicide Awareness Issue “The person who completes suicide dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths, trying to relive those terrible moments and understand....why?” – Clark


tatistics state that 15% of the adult population will experience depression at one point or another in their life. That means there are currently over 300 million people in the world now living with depression. Sobering. Whatever the cause, for some of these people, the emotional pain will become too much, and they will consider suicide an option of escape. Around 800,000 people complete suicide every year, and for each of those, there are approximately 25 times more suicide attempts. The veteran community statistics are even higher.

could have prevented the actions of their loved ones who were in such devastating pain. The why haunts them as well.

Some consider suicide as a selfish act focused only on the escape of the victim from their demons. The reality is that most are in such a dark place that they don’t see that to complete suicide is to hand down an emotional death sentence on their loved ones. It is incredibly difficult to lose a loved one, but even more challenging to heal from the loss of a loved one to suicide. Survivors are left with feelings of shame and guilt as they ruminate on how they

I hope that this issue will encourage anyone who is considering suicide to reach out for help, think of the loved ones that would be left behind, and stand courageously determined to do as Winston Churchill said, “Never, ever, ever quit.” Stay alert, stay alive.

Although suicide may end an individual’s internal pain, the friends and family will continue to suffer due to their loss. On average, every suicide leaves an estimated six or more “suicide survivors.” Those who have experienced loss to a completed suicide are at an increased risk of thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide. The ripple effect of pain and suffering continues.

In the trenches,

Hannah Bouwmeester Publisher

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VA Update

Sexual Assault By Michael Roof

Director, Dept of Veteran Affairs, Grand Traverse County

We have to do better! When someone enlists in the military, they hope that they better themselves while serving their county. The farthest thing from their mind is that they could be betrayed by those they serve with. In the military, there is a term called Military Sexual Assault (MST). It did not have this formal name until recently. Unfortunately, the rash of sexual assaults in the military is not new. In my line of work, I have assisted in filing claims of MST for all types of veterans. One that comes to mind was a young lady that had been assaulted three times and each time she reported the incident to her command. The reports were even followed up with the Military Police or a Judge Advocate officer. I was enraged to hear that each time the command did nothing for her or against the other service member. In fact, they push her out with a less than honorable discharge due to her reports. In the end, we were able to get her benefits, but that doesn’t heal the emotional wounds of what happened to her. Fast forward to 2020 where active-duty Army member, Vanessa Guillen had complained several times of sexual harassment and was later found dead. While stationed at the 3rd Cavalry Regiment

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in Fort Hood, TX, Guillen told members of her family that she faced repeated sexual harassment from a fellow soldier, but Army investigators found no evidence. Like most victims, Guillen did not formally report the allegations due to fear of reprisal. Once word got out that Guillen was making complaints, the offender killed himself when police attempted to arrest him. Victims of MST struggle in continuing to serve alongside those that harassed them and even after returning to civilian life. Victims often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance abuse, body image issues, self-harm, anxiety, depression, trust issues, and sometimes end their life as all these become too burdensome to handle. When will we, as a society, start to make these offenders accountable? Not only are we failing in upholding the “zero tolerance” policy, but we are not protecting those who have agreed to serve their country. To find out more about how you can help or if you have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment, contact the Grand Traverse Dept of Veterans Affairs at 231-995-6070 or call your local Veterans Affairs office.


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Coffee Table Coach

REVIEW DON’T RELIVE By Hannah Bouwmeester

OUR THOUGHTS TRIGGER OUR EMOTIONS In this last issue, I shared how crucial it is for us to not only be aware of our thoughts but embrace the reality that what we think can affect our very DNA (Epigenetics). In this issue we will be talking about preliminary steps you can take to begin to rein in your thoughts and begin to transform those thought patterns, to move from destructive thoughts to those that will serve you moving forward. BEGIN WITH AWARENESS So often we allow our thoughts to run wild. The average person has six thousand thoughts per day coursing through his or her mind without a way to halt the unending stream. We allow one thought to trigger another, we ruminate on past hurts, stresses or the overwhelm we are feeling. Many of the thoughts originated in our childhood and have played repetitively since then, both consciously and

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subconsciously. Each moment we entertain these thoughts, our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being is affected. Awareness allows you to take the reins of control back from your emotions. It creates the opportunity to transform how you react and to unlock different choices. It allows you to consciously respond to various triggers in the way that actually serves, rather than destructs. By becoming aware of our negative emotions we take back the power to measure how far off we are from where we want to be or from our goals we want to achieve, and to adjust accordingly. TAKE OWNERSHIP AND ACTION If you are ready to quit laying the blame of your emotional state at someone else’s doorstep, then you are ready to begin practicing awareness, own your emotional state, and take action to begin to change your subconscious reactions to triggers, both past, and future.

Here are practical steps to begin your journey to transformation: 1. Begin by making a list of events that you know to trigger negative emotions in you. Keep it with you - a running list in your phone is perfect - and add to it when you come across a trigger. 2. Once your list is done, choose the least intrusive and upsetting event to begin “flexing the muscles” of changing your responses to the trigger. IF YOU FEEL THIS IS TOO UPSETTING TO DO ALONE, PLEASE SEEK THE HELP OF A PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST. 3. Center yourself. Remember YOU are in charge of your emotions. Only you can make yourself feel anything about the memory or past event. An effective tool is to remind yourself of who you are NOW. For example, “I am not that six-year-old child (or whoever you were at the time of the event). I

IF YOU FEEL THIS IS TOO UPSETTING TO DO ALONE, PLEASE SEEK THE HELP OF A PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST. am a 36-year-old man now. I am not a victim of my life. I have grown into a man who has served my country with bravery, etc…” For many, reminding themselves this is a past event they have moved away from and how they have matured or grown is empowering in helping them distance from the emotional baggage and review it with a clear head. 4. Name your emotions. Put a label on what you are feeling. If it is anger, remember that anger is ALWAYS a secondary emotion and there is a root emotion fueling that. Find that root and you will begin to find healing.

it, and how you can reframe the event as something that is past and no longer has power over you. 6. Remind yourself you are an adult who has already survived the event and you CAN heal from the trauma. Many have bought the lie that they cannot. You can heal from any trauma if you want to be healed, and you do the work. 7. Identify the toxic thought patterns associated with the event. What triggers it, what thoughts cascade when it is triggered, how do you react and how will you reframe the pattern so you are handling the trigger in a healthy manner? 8. Be empathetic with yourself. Remind yourself that the event is not the cause of the pain but rather how you define the event. You are in control. Take ownership of this role and begin to redefine the event and how you will respond. What controls us and creates the toxic thoughts is how we have defined the event what it means for you. Once you reframe this, you will begin to find the healing that you want and deserve.

5. Notice where you feel the emotions in your body. Observe how it feels, where it is located, and release the tension. Remind yourself you are not reliving the experience, but rather reviewing it. Imagine you are watching this on a TV screen so you can detach and simply observe. Take notes if that helps you to define what you are feeling, where you are feeling

The great news is your thoughts trigger your feelings and physical responses. Change your thoughts, change your emotional state, and physical well-being. If you do not feel strong enough or capable of doing this on your own, please email me. As a coach myself, I am able to connect you with a professional who can help you work through these emotional triggers and blocks. Until next time.

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For A PTSD Exit By Michael Kent

When Tiffany Horan walks into her neighborhood TGI Fridays with her family, she views her surroundings with a nervous eye darting around the room. Her first thought is to look for an emergency exit. What can she use as a weapon? How does she get her family out of here? What if there’s an active shooter?

Ashlyn, Kevin, Jackson, Tiffany, Madisen and Cooper.


or most people this is not a normal reaction when taking the family out for a relaxing dinner. For Tiffany it is normal. And it’s exhausting.

After two tours in Iraq as a Marine, Horan bears the invisible scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the result of serving her country in a war zone. These scars will never leave her. She knows she will only be able to manage the PTSD. Managing PTSD can be fleeting since she works as a nurse at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids. The sight of dead bodies, the smell of blood can trigger a traumatic reaction and bring back memories. It can cause her to revisit the trauma of war. “I won’t freak out at work, but by the time I get home, I’m exhausted mentally and emotionally. I’m drained,” says Horan. Horan signed up for the Marines shortly after the 9/11 attacks. She joined because she was shocked that America appeared vulnerable. She wanted to make a difference and she wanted to challenge herself. “If I can get through the Marines I can handle anything,” says Horan. Any deployment to a war zone can lead to emotional scars, but Horan says as a woman

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in the male-dominated Marine Corps there can be additional hazards. “Hundreds of women are speaking of military sexual trauma,” says Horan. “I wasn’t raped, but there are a lot of terrible things that do happen. Those things contribute to PTSD for women.”

In support of a Veteran Art prize workshop. 92 for 22 sponsored two work shops

Like so many other veterans, Horan finds comfort from the PTSD within the brotherhood of other veterans. She is active in the Grand Rapids-based organization called 92 For 22. The group works to combat the impact of PTSD and eliminate veteran suicides. It is generally believed that 22 veterans die by suicide every day in this country. The group conducts an annual 92-mile hike to raise money to tackle depression and suicide within their ranks. Horan and others within 92 For 22 use the funds raised to deal with a wide range of issues faced by veterans. In some cases it could be providing

Marine sisters Catherine Munoz, Monica Siegfried/Boles

Santa hat in Iraq shooting 50 cal.

Iraq 2003 awaiting call of war by President Bush.. this photo was from another marine I know. GR Memorial Day Parade

Was asked to play for a Veteran slow pitch softball team against first responders. Held by VetGR and Hero Services of West Michigan. Played at 5/3 ball park.

Staged on side of road on convoy in Iraq

Dinner benefit at Monellis

Equipment Plation in Iraq

I work at Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids as a Cardiothoracic registered nurse

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money to fix a car. They helped purchase a van for a veteran with a handicapped child. Financial stress can drive a veteran into depression. But mostly they listen. They let veterans talk about adjusting to life after the military. For Horan she wants to be the shoulder that other female veterans can lean on. She believes the military is getting a little easier for women because people are talking about the sexual trauma faced by so many. When those women get home from their service they will have a friend. “I’m going to be that female where you are safe to talk to me,” says Horan. 92 For 22 is a resource for veterans throughout Michigan. Horan says they not only hear from veterans but also hear from family members or friends from all over the state. She says they are people looking to help but don’t know where to turn.

Suicide Warning Signs • • • • • • • • • •

Talking about wanted to kill oneself Talking about feeling hopeless Talking about being a burden to others Increase use of alcohol or drugs Withdrawing or feeling isolated Giving away a large amount of personal possessions Rage behavior Quick or impulsive decisions Dramatic mood swings Sudden bursts of happiness

22 mile walk

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Courageous Survivors By Lin Opgenorth

Dear Suicide, Perhaps I’ve waited too long to address you. Perhaps the pain, inflicted by Loss, and accompanied by Shame, has kept my feelings toward you locked away, and made Silence appear to be my only option. After all, what can I say? Death comes for us all. But the death you inflict is not of the garden variety. It picks clean the bones of those left behind and those you’ve condemned to the grave. So, after 16 years of sorrow, self-searching, weeping, and “what if” longings, I seize my responsibility and verbalize what my heart has hidden. Furthermore, since I have chosen to do so, I accept that I may also speak for others who have suffered at your ruthless hand, and attempt to speak for every mother, father, daughter, son, sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend who has felt your dark grip. First and foremost, you are a coward, not an admirable enemy. You are worthy of our attention due only to the vast numbers of lost men and women, unique individuals you have stolen from us. Although the actual number is uncertain, projections place it

at an all-time high. That makes it much easier for you, doesn’t it? You much prefer the quantitative approach to your loathsome vandalism, because numbers don’t have a “cattywampus” smile, or call Mom weekly to hear her laugh, or fall in love with the girl next door, or bear a son we named after a fellow vet we miss and wish to honor. They don’t play frisbee with their godchild or meet up with friends to reminisce over a few beers while revisiting all the laughable crap they pulled in high school. People we value have names and faces. They are not merely statistics. Further, while I’d like to compliment you on your persuasion techniques, I cannot, since you are a liar. You tell the struggling their pain will never subside, but it will. You convince the injured that there is no road leading to recovery, but there is. You tell the lost and lonely nobody cares, but many do. You tell the guilty, “It’s all your fault,” but it’s nobody’s fault. You urge the wounded in spirit to clutch a black, irreversible solution. Clearly, you have no redeemable qualities, only a legacy of deceit, deception, and carnage. Yes,

we’re on to you, Suicide, and that gives us ammunition for your defeat. Dorothy Parker, satirist, and poet, offered a brief examination of your life’s work. It’s your Resume’ and it’s laughable! Razors pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp. Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live! And live, we shall! We’ll desert our fears, our guilt, our selfquestioning, and we’ll follow our dreams. We’ll strive to explore the unexpected and delve into the positive. We’ll em-brace joy and reach out to others to do the same. Because we know the path you desire for us, Suicide, and we refuse to follow a liar, a thief, and a robber. We choose life, we choose love, we choose camaraderie, and we choose to rejoice in all that it brings because, in the end, life is always worth the struggle. Sincerely, Courageous Survivors

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There’s Always A Tomorrow Battling Suicide By Michael Kent


errick Cox remembers the steel being cold and hard on his lips. It smelled of carbon and tasted of oil. He was in a deep, dark hole and saw no way out. The gun in his mouth was his relief. It was a way to not be a burden on others. For a fleeting moment he thought of his own kids. His whole life he wanted to be a father. “I didn’t want to miss all the memories with them,” Derrick says. The next morning Derrick woke up with a booze bottle and a gun next to him. The thought of what nearly happened was sobering. That’s when Cox went to the Veterans Administration (VA) and sought help. What followed was a multi-year journey that had plenty of hard times, but also plenty of victories. “There’s always a tomorrow,” Cox says. “No matter how bad things get today, you can always do it again tomorrow and do it better.”

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Cox joined the Army in 2003. He spent sevenyears and seven-days in the military including a one-year deployment in Iraq. His year in the war zone left him with scars that are not visible but are still haunting. “It’s ten-times harder to come back to civilian life than it is to go to war,” says Cox. “You don’t realize the anger you picked up along the way.” Cox says things that used to bring him joy, no longer did. He was numb. “I would get drunk, go to the bar and pick a fight. I just wanted to feel something.” Cox now uses his experience to reach out to other veterans who may feel the same desperation. He volunteers at the VA and is on the board of directors with 92 For 22, a veteran-to-veteran support group in the Grand Rapids area. Veterans are notorious for not seeking help for mental health issues. “You are trained in the military to ‘Suck It Up’ to ‘Get Up And Keep Going,’” says Cox. “A broken arm will heal in a matter of a few weeks, but a broken mind can take a lifetime. It’s hard to admit you have an injury that can take a lifetime to heal.” Thoughts of suicide can be quite common for veterans. It’s why an estimated 22 veterans die by suicide every day in this country. The rate is one-and-a-half times greater than the general public according to a 2017 report by the VA. When Cox was alone with his gun, he felt it would only impact him. He reasoned it was a way to stop dragging others down. “You don’t realize that it impacts a lot of other people. It’s them losing a piece of themselves,” says Cox. Whether it’s reaching out for help from the VA, or seeking the brotherhood of other veteran groups like 92 For 22, Cox says there are a wide variety of resources. Veterans don’t have to deal with their challenges alone. “The biggest thing is to get out to a veteran event,” says Cox. “I’ve seen how it helps people. You are part of a community. Other veterans are feeling the same thing as you.”

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Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters T By Amanda Renkiewicz

he healing powers of a hot cup of coffee are impossible to properly praise. For the countless people who begin their morning with a steaming mug of this nectar of the gods, coffee represents a rejuvenation of mind and spirit. It sustains us during the long days and certainly through the dark winters. Yet it can do so

much more, making measurable differences in the lives of others. Scott Thomas, a veteran and businessman, has created a stunning symmetry between delicious coffee and charitable giving through Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters. He offers a haven where Veterans and First Responders can come to participate in peer-led PTSD therapy, enjoy family-friendly

camaraderie, events, and recreational activities. Every order helps put veterans to work in a supportive environment and funds their partnerships with organizations that help veterans when they need it most. An impressive 20% of their net proceeds go to the nonprofit organization Mission 22, and supports their goal of bringing the veteran suicide rate to zero.

“It’s amazing how the world begins to change through the eyes of a cup of coffee.” -Donna A. Favors

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This journey to owning a coffee roasting plant began in recognition of Brian Smith, Scott’s best friend since childhood. They had classes, football, and track together, and formed a bond that was stronger than friendship. “I’ll always remember how he made me feel when I was around him, which was ready for a laugh and knowing he had my back no matter what,” Scott recalls. Brian enlisted in the military after high school, and after the horrific events of 9/11, Scott quickly followed. After completing their services, Scott and Brian spent many long nights talking about what they had gone through during their deployments. On a few occasions, they even went to counseling together at a VA Vet Center. Yet on an early February morning in 2013, Scott got a call that would change his life forever. Brian had taken his own life the night before. “There was nothing I could do to bring him back or tell him how much he meant to me and everyone else in his life. It was crushing. For years when I thought of him, I would be overwhelmed with grief. I could hardly bear to talk about him without breaking down, except with the closest of friends that I knew loved and missed him too,” Scott says. “I’m still overwhelmed by grief when I think of my friend. But I am also proud of him. Proud of who he was, proud of his

service to our country, and thankful for the time we had together.” In honor of Brian and his legacy of service and friendship, Scott founded Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters at Freedom Hill Farm in Central Lake, Michigan. Scott was introduced to coffee at a young age by growing up on a farm and getting up in the early hours. “Since then, I’ve always been a morning person, and coffee is my favorite ritual of the day. Over the years I became more interested in specialty coffees that have hit the market and started roasting at home.” After selling his coffee to friends and family and receiving excellent reviews, he decided to make it a career. He found meaning in his company by crafting it around a mission of hiring and supporting veterans. “I hope to grow this company and provide a supportive, prosperous environment for vets like me along the way,” Scott explains. “Selling coffee is great, but knowing that if I really work at it, I may save the lives of some veterans is what wakes me up motivated in the morning.” Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters donates significant portions of its proceeds to Mission 22 annually. They pledge up to $100,000 a year to the veteran mental health organization. Each bag purchased directly helps veterans in need. “When our customers choose to drink Freedom Hill Coffee in-

stead of the big guys, they’re helping keep a veteran-owned, veteran-employed business open, they’re sending a portion of the profits to Mission 22, and they’re helping support our efforts to eliminate the stigma of seeking mental health care via our communications and social media efforts. Every bag of coffee we have out in the world is an opportunity for a customer to share with a friend or family member that they care about, honoring America’s heroes and ending veteran suicide. If through all our messaging we can help budge the needle closer to ending veteran suicide, every ounce of effort will be worth it,” concludes Scott. The amazing background of Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters and the outstanding taste of their freshly brewed batches are reason enough to purchase a few bags, and then add free shipping! Their shipping is always free on orders over $40 or with a coffee subscription, where you select the coffee you’d like (at a discount!) and choose your delivery frequency. “The most important message I’ll ever have for my brothers and sisters in arms is that hard times come to pass, not to stay. Please keep fighting until you find a path of peace and purpose you deserve. There is meaning for you out there. Please don’t give up. We need you,” Scott urges. It’s easy to admit that we need people like Scott (and coffee!), just as much.

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Blue to Gold Star Mothers By Rachael Sherman

Starla Owens grew up in a strict household with parents who were the strong and silent type and rarely expressed their emotions.


hen she had children of her own, she found these traits carried on to her especially when her son Joseph Lancour was killed at the age of 21. Joe was a Specialist in the United States Army and was killed in Afghanistan on November 10, 2007. Starla had to be the rock for her other children. She put up a shield to protect herself and her family so that they could grieve. Hers was the shoulder their tears landed on and she grieved quietly and alone. Bottling up her

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emotions took a tole leaving her feeling weak, alone, and even contemplating taking her own life. Writing about her emotions and her struggle dealing with the loss of her son taught her to embrace her emotions and that she deserves to express them. She learned through writing that it takes strength to show weakness. She was then able to find purpose when the Northern Michigan Blue to Gold Star Mothers organization was formed in 2016. Starla serves as the president on the Northern Michigan Blue to Gold Star Mothers who’s goals are to share experiences about Blue Star and Gold Star families, provide a space where families can make connections, and to “support families of all Veterans who have died during or as a result of military service”. It was in World War I that families began displaying a blue star on a white background to represent a family member that was serving on active duty. If that service member was killed the blue star

was covered with a gold star. This is where we get the term Blue Star and Gold Star mothers.

symbol of the sacrifice and the transition from a Blue Star to a Gold Star.

For the past four years she has worked, with assistance from volunteers including Blue Star Mothers Chapter 187, to gather family members of fallen military from the Northern Michigan area to honor their loved ones and their sacrifice. A stark scene to behold at the annual Gold Star Family Day of Recognition is the table where families place photos of their loved ones, gone but never forgotten. The Blue Star Mothers Chapter 187 members play a pivotal role in the ceremony. Names of the fallen are read aloud and a family member steps forward to accept a rose which is handed from a Blue Star Mother to a Gold Star Mother or other relative. This presentation of the rose form one mother to another symbolizes the respect, support, and gratitude the Blue Star Mothers have for the Gold Star community. It is a

Along the way Starla has met many Gold Star families in the area and some who didn’t even know what the Gold Star represented. One woman in particular was surprised to learn that anyone cared that her brother gave his life in the Vietnam War because it was so controversial at the time. Starla made sure this Gold Star sister knew she had a community of people to connect with and an event that was intended specifically to honor her brother. If you’re in the Traverse City area the last Sunday in September, the Gold Star Family Day of Recognition is something to see. The Northern Michigan Blue to Gold Star Mothers take pride in the ceremony and the outreach that is done to bring Gold Star families together once a year. For information and resources please visit http://blue2goldstars.com/ or you can reach out to Starla directly at 231-613-0349.

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History of the American Civil War By Tanmoy Seth and Hannah Bouwmeester The Big Battlefield Regardless of how smart and intelligent humanity becomes, we never seem to stop fighting with others for reasons known or unknown. A great divide exists within many cultural, political, and social realms and these divisions can lead to devastating chasms that cause wars and destruction. These wars are not only harmful to the people affected and the economy but also leave permanent scars in the minds of millions who are brutalized along the way. Almost every conflict starts from a disagreement in ideology, or rather due

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to differences in human psychology and the way we process disagreements. The American Civil War, one of the most devastating wars of our American history, is a prime example of the destructive effects of the conflagration that happens when two sides simply cannot agree on one solution. Fuel to the Fire The United States had been seeing good growth during the middle of the 19th century, even though there was a significant economic difference between the Northern and Southern

territories. This economic gap, along with the practice of slavery in the Southern region, further fuelled many conflicts. Things took a bad turn with the formation of the Republican Party as an opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which came up with the motive of opposing slavery extension into the West. These differences grew further with the election of Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican President in 1860 when seven states split out to form the Confederate States of America. As they say, “every fire needs a spark,” the bullets poured by the Confederate army on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay on April 12, 1861, ignited the Civil War. Names engraved Fatalities kept on increasing along the 1200 miles stretch from Virginia to Missouri, where almost a million men fought each other. Worst was yet to come, as the numbers grew and the war converted into a strategized battlefield. The massive outrage sparked fumes in different pockets of the nation, thus giving rise to many other battles like Fredericksburg in Virginia, Antietam in Maryland, Shiloh in Tennessee, and the famous Gettysburg battle in Pennsylvania. The whole ordeal lasted till the spring of 1865 when eventually the principal Confederate armies surrendered, and Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, was captured. Though the exact number of casualties could never be claimed, estimates put the losses at a whopping 620,000 men.

The number is astonishingly higher than the fatalities of both World Wars combined; however, it embraced a new beginning for the nation that was free from slavery. To many, the price of war was worth the ultimate outcome of freedom to thousands of enslaved and abused humans. The Verdict While history has it engraved that the economics of slavery led to this bloody conflict, is it the only reason that led to the war? Though the key cause remains to be the enslavement of black people, issues with political control and states’ rights fueled the conflict as well. The victory of President Lincoln, without a single Southern electoral vote, indicated their loss of influence over the federal government to abolish unsupported federal laws. Thus, excluding the Southern states from territorial expansion towards the West and political influence. Secession was the only way left, thereby leading to this massive bloodshed permanently recorded in our history. The efforts of the brave soldiers gave birth to a strengthened U.S foreign power and ensured ever-growing support for the international abolishment of racial slavery. War is never the preferred first option to solve major conflicts, however, in the case of demolishing hatred, inequality, and inhumanity, as in The American Civil War, history teaches it is, at times, a necessary and effective choice.

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Nick Dmitruchina

Finding Purpose Again By Rachael Sherman


ick Dmitruchina is a retired Marine and always carried himself with confidence and was known for doing his job well and with pride. No one knew that he used work as a coping mechanism to deal with mental trauma inflicted on him as a young man. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he found himself in a failing relationship and began self-isolating after moving back to his hometown of Taylor, Michigan. His mental state reached a breaking point one summer night in 2018 when he decided to take a lethal dose of medication to end his pain. This decision seemed logical to him at the time because it meant his pain would go away.

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Nick was living with his lifelong friend, whom he calls his brother at the time of his attempted suicide. His brother normally didn’t feel the need to check on Nick at night, but this time he did, and he found Nick unconscious next to the bottle of pills. The doctors and nurses at Beaumont Hospital had little knowledge of overdoses of the particular drug Nick took and quickly determined that to save his life he needed to be taken immediately to the University of Michigan. Nick would later learn that the EMT who was supposed to drive him to U of M that day decided instead to ride in the back of the ambulance with Nick to try to

keep him awake. The EMT was a Marine as well and couldn’t stand to lose another brother or sister this way. Nick experienced multiple organ failure, was resuscitated on numerous occasions, and after several weeks was discharged into a treatment program at Beaumont Hospital. Five weeks of intense therapy taught him that his story is not unique. He’s not unusual. His story is like so many others, especially in the veteran community. He learned how to talk about his trauma and not to suppress his emotion. There are programs for active duty service members to speak with counselors anonymously about their mental health without scrutiny, but they aren’t widely talked about, unfortunately. These programs need more attention so that service members can get help before it’s too late. It isn’t news that military culture is one where showing weaknesses casts an unwanted spotlight, and that’s what causes a lot of service members to hide or bury their emotions or concerns about mental health. Nick got very good at hiding. Mental health isn’t comfortable to talk about, but Nick isn’t shy about telling his story. He

wants people to know where the resources are for those who need help. Nick’s therapy opened a can of worms, and he started to wonder if he was a good, moral person. He began peeling back layers and discovering moral injuries, survivor’s guilt, and the guilt of the emotional trauma he caused his family. Nick and his family are healing together, and his experience has strengthened their relationship. Telling his story is vital for Nick because if one person reads about his journey and decides to address their mental health issues head-on, then he was kept alive for a reason. A commonly heard anecdote about veterans with PTSD or veterans leaving the military is that they no longer feel a sense of purpose. This theory couldn’t have been more accurate for Nick, and it was a significant factor in his decision to take those pills.

His brother and sister-in-law have very demanding professions, so Nick has found his sense of purpose again and a new title, The Manny. His niece and nephew have dance recitals, soccer practice, track meets, etc., and Nick is there for all of it. Taking care of his niece and nephew has given him a reason to wake up every day. He’s also finds healing in volunteering in the veteran community where he lives and speaking to veterans about his journey because so many have had similar experiences. He is alive for a reason, and Nick doesn’t take that for granted. He had an opportunity to return to the ICU, where he spent several weeks recovering after his suicide attempt, and he thanked the doctors and nurses for saving him. “I’m here to watch my niece and nephew grow up. I’m here to cheer them on at a baseball game. I’m where I’m supposed to be.” If you suspect a friend or a family member are struggling with mental health, reach out to them and check on them. Often people who decide to take their own life aren’t in a position to ask for help because, at that point, they don’t want it. Reach out to your people even when you don’t think they are struggling because any small conversation could help.

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Out of The Darkness Walk By Amanda Renkiewicz


t’s a shocking fact: each year, suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. Despite that, funding for prevention efforts for suicide were minimal for years. In 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was formed to understand and prevent suicide through research, education and advocacy. Their mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by this tragic loss of life. Though the month of September is officially dedicated to Suicide Prevention, the AFSP works continuously year-round to provide resources and help for those in their darkest hour.

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The AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies: ● Funding scientific research ● Educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention ● Advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention ● Supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide There are local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. All of their chapter volunteers organize creative fundraising events for their entire community, and form friendships and bonds along the way. Each event is a platform to change the conversation about mental health, and move the discussion to how people experiencing difficulties can receive life changing (and saving) assistance. As advocates for suicide prevention, the members of AFSP learn about risk factors, statistics, and treatment options to share with others. Their goal to prevent unnecessary loss of life is rooted in the very heart of humanity and charity. One of the most popular and attended events is the Out of Darkness Walk. These movements are held in hundreds of cities across the country,

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and they give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss. Thousands of people raise awareness and funds that allow the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to support their core strategies to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss. The organization’s flagship Walks raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their cause (the upcoming Traverse City Walk is currently aiming for $150,000). As AFSP’s largest fundraiser, the walkers across the country together produce millions of dollars for suicide prevention programs. They unite those who have been affected by suicide, and create communities that are cognizant of mental health’s importance. The AFSP recently celebrated 30 years of service to the suicide prevention movement, and their growth and impact have been remarkable and measurable. Due to the efforts of volunteers, walkers, and donors, AFSP has been able to set a bold goal to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20% by 2025. In 2018 alone, 48,344 Americans died by suicide. On average, there are a horrifying 132 suicides per day. Research shows an alarming increase in total suicides every single year (and that was before 2020’s pandemic). If the AFSP reaches its inspiring goal of 20% reduction in suicides, nearly 10,000 lives could be saved annually. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s goal is beyond worthy, and incredibly worthy to become involved in.

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Patriot Day We Will Never Forget By Gaurav Roy


eptember 11, 2001, or 9/11, as it is known across the world, is a day that will go down as the deadliest day that no American will ever forget. On this day, a series of suicide attacks and airline hijackings were conducted by 19 militants associated with al-Qaeda, an Islamic extremist group. It is the deadliest terror attack ever to happen on American soil. The attack caused thousands of deaths and compelled the U.S. to tackle the menace of terrorism.

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September 11, 2019 - The Day No American Will Forget On the terrifying day of September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked. Three of these hijacked planes flew into iconic buildings of the United States, including the Pentagon in Washington DC and the New York-based Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The militants on the fourth hijacked plane were unable to attack any building as plane passengers fought against the hijackers. Unfortunately, the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. There is no intel on where or what building the fourth plane intended to hit. However, some people believe that it was headed for the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the Maryland-based Camp David presidential retreat, or one of the nuclear power plants in the eastern seaboard region. Devastating Impact The attack of 9/11 brought a devastating impact as around 3,000 Americans lost their lives. This total number of victims takes into account the plane passengers, those who were stuck in the building, and the brave frontline workers who put on their lives at stake to save the people. 9/11 was the most significant terror attack ever to happen in the United States. It led to many countries tightening airline security to prevent nine-eleven like attacks in the future.

The majority of the 3000 deaths were of the people that worked in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Especially the people on the floors above the collision point who were trapped at the top of the burning skyscraper. Four hundred eleven men and women frontline workers also lost their lives while fighting fires and trying to rescue the affected people stuck in the buildings. The Proclamation George W. Bush, the President of the United States at the time, proclaimed on September 14, 2001, to establish September 11 as a national day to remember the victims of terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and make prayer for them. A bill to establish 9/11 as a national day for mourning was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Vito Fossella along with 22 co-sponsors. Among them, there were 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

was then signed by President George Bush and made into law on December 18, 2001. The next year, on September 11, 2002, President Bush proclaimed the day as the first official Patriot Day. What Happens on Patriot Day? The U.S. flags are lowered half-staff on Patriot Day. There is a country-wide moment of silence at 8:46 AM EST on September 11 when the first hijacked plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Media outlets around the globe cover the news about Patriot Day every year to honor the lives lost in the September 11 attacks of the year 2001.

The bill, joint resolution 71, introduced by Rep. Vito Fossella and 22 cosponsors passed the House and the Senate on November 30, 2001, unanimously. Under the resolution, the President of the United States is required to issue a proclamation every year requesting all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff. The resolution

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Recognition Day By Gaurav Roy The United States will observe POW/MIA Recognition Day on September 18 this year. The celebrations of POW/MIA Recognition Day happens on the third Friday of September each year. It is the designated day to honor the sacrifices made by prisoners of war and the members who have been missing in action. It’s hard to believe there was no POW/MIA Recognition Day to honor these brave men and women in uniform before 1979.

The First POW/MIA Day The first POW/MIA day began at the Washington National Cathedral. A remembrance ceremony took place there, but the Pentagon has been hosting the official Department of Defense POW/MIA day of observance since then. Other US military installations, too, hold an observance on the POW/MIA day. How do Americans Observe POW/MIA Day? There’s no one specific way of how Americans have been observing POW/MIA Day. Americans have been honoring this day in many different ways, including some of the National Park

Service sites. Even private organizations like Veterans of Foreign Affairs hold an observation on POW/MIA day. They arrange events and activities at many of their outposts throughout the United States. Iconic POW/MIA Flag The POW/MIA flag has attained an iconic status among the Americans. Many are unaware that the iconic flag predates even the POW/MIA day? It is believed that Mary Hoff, a military spouse, requested a private company to make a flag in 1971. This flag was to honor the soldiers who were missing in action or became prisoners of war. Newt Heisley, a WW2 pilot, designed the iconic POW/MIA flag. On POW/MIA Day, the iconic POW/MIA flag is flown just below the United States flag. It is precisely how the POW/MIA flag is displayed in the White House. As per the Department of Defense, the POW/MIA flag is the only flag displayed in the White House. In 1998, the US Congress ordered to include the POW/MIA flag among the flags displayed on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Flag Day, and Armed Forces Day in this manner.

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Never Returned Home More than 83,000 US military members are missing since WW2 to the current time. These statistics come from the official website of the Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency. The majority of the missing in action service members are from World War II.

numbers in remembrance of prisoners of war and the soldiers missing in action. Many veterans and their families still wear bracelets to remember those killed in action during recent conflicts.

Remembering the soldiers who made extreme sacrifices for us is more important than any physical display. Regardless of how much time has passed, we should pray that they will soon return home.

The second war with the higher number of soldiers missing was in the Korean Conflict. 7000 American soldiers were missing in action from the Korean War. The next is the Vietnam war with 1600 POW/MIAs, followed by Cold War with 126 listed POW/MIAs. Six American soldiers are still unaccounted for the conflicts that the United States took part in after 1991. Wearing Bracelets in Support In the 1970s, Americans started wearing bracelets in large

Image courtesy of Don Waara, Antrim County Friends of Veterans Board member

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The Vietnam War By Gaurav Roy


erard R. Ford, the president of the United States, proclaimed the end of the “Vietnam Era” on May 7, 1975. However, it took over five years for Congress to ask for a detailed study on the prevalence and incidence of PTSD and other psychological trauma among Vietnam War veterans after the end of the war. The comprehensive study based on an independent peer review was known as the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study.

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The Catalyst PTSD was commonly referred to as “Vietnam Syndrome” and “Vietnam Stress” during the Vietnam War. As per the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD was formally recognized as a medical disorder in 1980. The Vietnam War proved to be the catalyst that led to the consideration of the diagnosis of PTSD as a medical disorder. After the war ended, American soldiers returned home with a condition known as “post-Vietnam syndrome” and “delayed psychiatric trauma” among the psychiatrists. The symptoms of post-Vietnam syndrome or PTSD, as it is called today, often included anger, sleeplessness, nervousness, intense guilt, nightmares, and painful flashbacks of traumatic war memories. The onset of symptoms began months or even years after the soldiers returned from the war. Ignoring the Elephant in the Room? Even after PTSD became a medicallyrecognized disorder, it was never really discussed, as it was the culture of those times to avoid talking about PTSD. It was socially expected to let go of what has happened and move on from your negative experiences. The veterans were specifically susceptible to such expectations as they felt that talking about PTSD makes them look weak.

these were often considered to be the collateral damage caused by the war. The Fight is Still On! The researchers followed up with the participants of the National Vietnam Readjustment Study of the 1980s to prepare a research report on the current situation of the Vietnam War veterans.

The Damage! Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacted many Vietnam War veterans, both in the war zone and upon returning home from the war. Most of the soldiers who participated in the war theater returned without even a little assistance. They were expected to transition back to civilian life as if nothing happened.

It was found that the PTSD prevalence rate was 4.5% among the men who served in the Vietnam War. The numbers went as high as 11% if the study factors in the veterans that only met just a few of the criteria. On the other hand, the prevalence rate of PTSD was about 6% and 9% among women veterans. Almost one in five women soldiers active in the U.S. military during the period of 1960s and 1970s have experienced PTSD.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) found that 17% or 510,000 of Americans who served in the Vietnam War suffered from PTSD after the war. Divorces, substance abuse, and suicide rates were also up among the veterans, and

Almost 271,000 Vietnam War veterans are still suffering from PTSD and subthreshold warzone PTSD. One-third of them have a major depressive disorder even after more than 45 years after the war.

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Among Veterans By Tanmoy Seth When Saviors Become the Victims!

Suicide, the word itself is so traumatizing that it sends shivers down the spine. Thinking of those who unknowingly lose a near and dear one to the act is quite shocking. Yes, “unknowingly”! Victims of suicide rarely announce what they plan to do; they suffer in silence, and those left behind become depressed and traumatized as well with grief. Suicide leaves a scar at both ends, the victim and the victim’s loved ones.

What’s driving the surge?

In most cases, it is hard to understand the reason leading to suicide. However, such people often succumb to depression, traumatic stress, or mental illness. According to militarytimes.com, an average

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of up to 16.8 suicides happen per day with American Veterans. Some sources report up to 22 suicides completed each day. It is even more shocking to know that these veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die of suicide than Americans who never served in the military. But what drives them to such an act? Are they responsible, or do external factors force them to do so? While it is difficult to determine the exact reason, both external and internal factors lead to suicidal tendencies. Veteran users of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) services emphasize on economic disparities, homelessness, unemployment, level of military service-connected disability status, community connection, and personal health and well-being as the most common

reasons among the veteran suicides in the recent past. According to sciencedaily. com, access to guns makes the suicidal attempt more accessible, where almost 70% of male veteran suicides in 2017 were performed using a firearm. The age factor takes the story to the next level. In an era where we consider the young and teens to be our future, it is alarming to see that veterans between the 18–34 years bracket had the highest suicide rate in 2017. This rate has increased by over 75% in the past ten years. Necessary steps are needed to mend things and support our veterans through dark times.

may hit success soon, we need to be more cautious and sensitive towards veterans in the early stages of diagnosis. Psychologists acting through various community support services have also proven helpful outside of militarybased clinics.

Suicide prevention is the focus.

There is a proverb that states, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Or, as the Cambridge dictionary meaning explains, “It is better to stop something bad from happening than it is to deal with it after it has happened.” We must support and encourage our veterans through good times and bad so that they can get the help they need to live life with their loved ones.

How do we help?

Taking corrective measures to reduce such instances is easier said than done. Although we have come a long way in finding ways to diagnose these tendencies, getting these veterans back on track may take some time. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has been actively coordinating across VHA Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs), the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration to address Veteran suicide. However, the major challenge lies in getting the veterans to use these services. Though approaches like President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS)

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92 for 22 By Amanda Renkiewicz

“22 veterans commit suicide every day. That’s 22 too many,” declare the members of the volunteer group 92 for 22. The team works to eliminate that statistic, explaining that their goal is to stand behind and fight for those who fought for our country. “If we don’t, who will?” they ask.

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he statistics are grim. With one in five veterans diagnosed with PTSD, the effects are lasting and damaging beyond words. The suicide rate has increased 150% among veterans since 2001, with 30% of all veterans admitting considering suicide. On average, 22 veterans complete suicide per day. That’s one life lost every 65 minutes. The good news? There are countless people working to bring that number down. 92 For 22 originated in Michigan, April 2017, when a group of veterans decided to walk the White Pine Trail. It runs 92 miles from Comstock Park to Cadillac, Michigan. A total of 11 veterans participated in the first walk and raised $6,644. These funds were donated to Help For Our Disabled Troops, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that adapts homes for injured Veterans as well as helping with therapeutic accommodations. The initial walk proved inspirational for everyone involved. The idea grew to create their own nonprofit to help veterans in need. Their second

walk raised over $9,000 and went towards helping one veteran get a car, and provided another with household appliances and furniture so he could get back on his feet. Their goals and vision grew, and they set a mission to reach more veterans and their communities. By bringing awareness to others about the struggles that veterans have, they hope to keep this subject top of mind. The vision of 92 For 22 is to raise enough money to purchase property to build an environment that offers outdoor recreation and therapeutic experiences focused on helping veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and their families. As a march for those still fighting after the war, the nonprofit selected their name from their biggest annual event. The 92 represents the length of the walk, and 22 is in honor of the 22 veterans a day who take their own lives. “We want to raise awareness about veteran suicide because not everyone knows the signs or what to look for,” says Chief Executive Administrator Brad Stinson. “We veterans are stubborn by nature!” he adds with a laugh. “We are not

going to reach out for help, but we accept help if it’s offered to us. We lean heavily on family members, because they’ve seen the changes in the veteran. But there’s a bond between veterans that cannot be broken. At the end of the day, we respect each other, and there’s a love and a connection that’s very hard to articulate. We can relate to other veterans on a different level than even family members can.” 92 for 22 is based in Michigan, but their outreach and communication options are growing. “If a veteran wants to talk from anywhere, we’re here,” they promise. “Everyone’s transition is different, but the more we share about our own experiences, the more people we can help together,” Brad says. Whether through volunteering, becoming a community partner, or simply donating, there are many ways to help us accomplish the mission for 92 for 22, and doing a small part in bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero. To learn more, visit 92for22.org

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MVAA Makes State Emergency Aid Available to Michigan Veterans By Zaneta Adams, Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency Director

spend CVSF grants on veteran outreach and activities but were unable due to pandemic restrictions. The emergency relief was also available to counties that either did not qualify or chose not to apply for CVSF grants previously.


truggling veterans in many counties across Michigan are able to put food on the table, make essential housing and vehicle repairs and pay medical bills thanks to the County Veteran Service Fund Emergency Relief (CVSF-ER) effort launched by the MVAA during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the state’s coordinating agency for Michigan’s more than 550,000 veterans and their families, the MVAA facilitates $6.4 million in CVSF stateappropriated grants to County Veterans Service Offices. The emergency aid was made available to counties that were previously approved for CVSF grants but wanted to amend the grants to offer emergency relief directly to veterans. Some counties were slated to

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The emergency relief effort gained considerable traction, with nearly 30 Michigan counties participating to the tune of $1.3 million. The CVSFER grants, determined by each county’s veteran population, ranged from $6,000 in Wexford County (with 2,500 veterans) to $519,736 in Wayne County (with 83,400 veterans). Eligible veterans from all eras – both wartime and peacetime – in participating counties can use the money to make home and vehicle repairs, pay medical expenses and meet other needs determined emergent. As part of the effort, the MVAA also teamed up with Meijer to provide grocery vouchers to veterans in participating counties. While the emergency assistance is helping veterans hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, it also applied to emergent needs stemming from the central Michigan flooding in May. Both Midland and Gladwin counties,

which were devastated by flooding, applied for and were approved for CVSF-ER grants. As Gov. Whitmer said in helping announce the CVSF-ER effort: “The State of Michigan is committed to supporting our veterans and their families during these challenging times and every day throughout the year. These brave men and women put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms and we will continue serving them as they served us.” Indeed, for those counties that opted in, veterans of all eras could take advantage of emergency funding opportunities while also becoming more familiar with resources that are available to them and their families. No matter which era they served in, they deserve support when they need it the most, especially during these trying and uncertain times. For more information about emergency funding opportunities and all other benefits and services available to veterans, contact the MVAA’s Veteran Resource Service Center at 1-800-MICH-VET (1800-642-4838).

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