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March 18, 2014

RezVets helps veterans reconnect to civilian life

As thousands of U.S. military troops began coming home from Afghanistan in the draw down of combat forces there, the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood saw a need to help returning veterans.

As thousands of U.S. military troops began coming home from Afghanistan in the draw down of combat forces there, the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood saw a need to help returning veterans.

Last year, church members began mentoring vets, steering them toward the many ministries already within the church that could offer help, including Alcoholics Anonymous and divorce support groups, for instance.

From there, RezVets was born — a ministry to help veterans assimilate into civilian life through bimonthly educational programs and monthly volunteer opportunities.

The mission is to help young veterans, preventing them from becoming a troubling statistic, said Cindy McDermott, a retired commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves who is one of the core team members of RezVets.

“Not that we would turn our backs on any veteran, but the real focus is how can we help those young vets before they get to the point of contemplating doing harm to themselves or getting into habits or lifestyles that are not conducive to a good life or a good family life,” McDermott said.

Another core team member, HC Palmer, a former battalion surgeon in Vietnam for the Big Red One, wants to provide the help that so many Vietnam vets didn’t get. More than half of the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day are Vietnam vets.

“It’s our obligation personally to not only welcome them back home, but to interact with them and get them involved back into the community in every way — the veteran, their spouse, family — and that’s what we want to do here at RezVets,” Palmer said. “… And we want to do it without any feeling of obligation on the veteran’s part. We don’t care whether they’re non-religious, nominally religious or religious. We just want to help.”

RezVets recently received a $2,500 grant from Missouri Council of the Humanities to cover the expenses of a seminar to take place April 25-26 called “Writing My Way Back Home.” The nationally recognized nonprofit program helps vets develop writing skills to tell their stories in nonfiction, poetry, fiction or song lyrics.

“I just can’t say enough good things about the program,” said McDermott, who attended the program two years ago at the University of Iowa. “It teaches how to use writing skills to tell their military experiences. And we have a lot of really top name local authors and poets that are going to be joining us to be the teachers and the leaders of each of these segments of the seminar.”

Palmer said it’s important for veterans to get their stories out, rather than keeping them in their heads where they relive them over and over. He said they just need to write it down once in whatever form.

“Just by refining and editing, once they understand their story they’ll have the whole of it. They can own it and then they can change the ending,” he said.

RezVets gave veterans an opportunity to tell their stories at a roundtable discussion last week at the church. Four veterans talked about the challenges they have faced and where they stand today. The common thread was the lack of resources available to help veterans transition back into civilian life.

Will Train served as a reservist in the Navy from 1998 to 2003 as a field hospital corpsman, taking care of wounded servicemen and women stateside.

When Train got out of the Navy, it was a struggle to reconnect with other veterans and he couldn’t find any organizations to help, he said. He enrolled in medical school at but quickly found that his hands-on experience counted for nothing and most of the credits he had already earned from classes taken in the Navy would not transfer.

It became Train’s mission to seek out other veterans. Last year he discovered Team Rubicon, which involves veterans bonding together in disaster relief operations. He is now program operations manager for Region 7, which includes Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

At one relief site a fellow veteran said to him, “We were communicating almost telepathically.”

“That really hit home with me because you just can’t get that with civilians,” Train said.

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