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Veterans offer brotherhood to help those returning from service

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Tyler Stocks

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Free meals, parades and ceremonies are nice gestures of support, however, many veterans fall through the cracks when they return home from deployments and the transition from soldier to citizen is often a daunting task.

According to a 2018 Department of Veteran’s Affairs Military to Civilian Transition report, only 42 percent of veterans who have never used their Veterans Administration health care benefits knew they were actually entitled to them, and 26 percent of veterans do not know how to apply for VA health care benefits.

Furthermore, the report states that veterans are more likely to commit suicide than civilians.

In 2015, veterans accounted for 14.3 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults, the report said. And in 2016, the rate of suicide was 1.5 times higher among veterans compared to civilians.

Since his retirement from the military, Charles “Red” Beddard, a disabled Vietnam veteran, has met dozens of discharged vets who end up on the streets and suffer from depression, poverty, and other invisible wounds that are often missed by others.

As a veteran’s services officer for the American Legion Post 39 in Greenville, Beddard wants to get veterans and their family involved and connected with other veterans who know what military life is all about while providing a family they can confide in and be a part of.

The American Legion is the nation’s largest organization for wartime veterans with over 2 million members worldwide.

And each of the 12,000 posts assists veterans and their families with jobs, housing, health care and other necessities while also connecting them with their communities to ensure they have every opportunity to enjoy their new life after serving in the military.

Members of Post 39 meet once a month and spend time with one another while also planning recreational activities like motorcycle rides, baseball games and group outings.

Post 39 also sponsors a youth baseball team, a state oratorical contest, sponsors youth to annual Boys State and Girls State programs, and actively participates in Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.

And many do not know that Post 39 co-sponsors the Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair with other posts throughout Pitt County.

When it comes to support from the community, Beddard said he thinks the Legion provides an outlet for those who have seen and experienced traumatic events that have forever altered their lives.

For veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, having a way to bond with other veterans is key to helping them heal their battle scars.

According to the VA’s website, about six out of 10 men and five out of 10 women experience at least one traumatic event in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse while men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster or witness death or injury.

“For veterans who have PTSD, when they come back home things are different,” Beddard said. “They’re not out there to hurt anybody and they’re not really dangerous. but if you know the military life, you can deal with it more,” Beddard said.

He continued, “We can set up things for them to be doing stuff and get them active to help other veterans. That’s why I do this. I do it because I can help a veteran.”

Franklin Smith, a 79-year-old veteran who and Post 39 member, sat down with Beddard at the post recently to talk about veteran’s issues ahead of the Veteran’s Day holiday, which is Monday. He said he see the struggles younger veterans returning home face.

“There’s opportunities out there that people don’t know about,” Smith said. And vets should not be shy about seeking benefits. “It shouldn’t be welfare; we earned it.”

He and Beddard hope to recruit returning veterans to join the Legion, where they can find a brotherhood to share their struggles with.

“If you’ve got a buddy or a comrade to talk to, that’s one of the things we offer at the Legion and the rest of the military groups,” he said. “Somebody that has a similar background or has been through the same stuff, they can understand it and relate back and forth to you.”

When it comes to community support, Beddard said he wishes friends and families of veterans would reach out and actually help rather than offer lip service and empty promises.

“(Veterans) come back home and they don’t have friends no more and their old friends don’t want much to do with them. That’s where the depression comes in and suicide happens because they don’t have a support group. Their friends should be able to help them. Their friends should be able to talk to them a little bit. Talk to them about what’s happening around here and get them involved. Help them do something to get them going again,” Beddard said.

He also said that many people take for granted just how good they have it and forget that freedom isn’t free.

“This is the land of the free because of the brave that served. It wouldn’t be free if them boys out there and women out there didn’t go out there and serve. All these people say, ‘I can do this and I can do that’ You’re right: You can because of that guy over there that served and put his life on the line for you.”

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @StocksGDR.

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