Stand Up for Veterans open house highlights North Country needs
GORHAM — In 2004, nearly 200 New Hampshire Army National Guard soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery left the comfort of their North Country homes for a year-long deployment in Iraq.
The citizen-soldiers' unit was then based in Berlin, and though there were several soldiers who were career military, most were part-time warriors, leaving jobs, family and friends behind to do what countless of their fellow North Country residents had done before them. They went to serve their country.
New Hampshire's North Country doesn't have the raw numbers of veterans that the more populous parts of the state do, but it more than makes up for that in terms of percentage of citizens who have served. That is a source of great pride, but the lack of big aggregate numbers means that veterans sometimes have to go long distances for VA services.
There are services in the region north of the notches, though, and providers held a Stand Up for Veterans open house at the Berlin Vet Center in Gorham, on May 17 to get the word out.
The center, located just south of the Wal-Mart on Route 16, offers professional readjustment counseling for veterans and their families, along with outreach services, and links to other V.A. services and community agencies.
At the open house, Jay Sprinkler of the Berlin Vet Center, said the center has been open since 2005, and served about 50 vets in its first year. This year, he added, they are on target to serve 250 veterans for a total of more than 3,000 visits.
"Our motto is, 'Help without hassles'," he explained.
He said that there is an extra layer of confidentiality at the center, so veterans don't have to be concerned with the information getting out to other agencies without their permission.
Adjusting back into civilian life, Sprinkler, who is a Vietnam veteran, said, "can be quiet challenging."
For those who want to talk with fellow veterans in a non-governmental setting, NH Vet-to-Vet has meetings throughout the state. In the North Country, the peer-driven support groups meet the first and third Tuesdays of the month at the Family Resource Center in Gorham from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
A group also meets in St. Johnsbury, Vt., not far from Littleton, every Thursday at Community Connections from 6 to 7 p.m.
Pastor Dave Canter of Lamb's Chapel Berlin said more outreach is needed as Vet to Vet moves forward. The Vietnam War veteran and Vet to Vet team leader appealed to those of all eras to help out.
Much of that outreach includes getting the word out to the most vulnerable veterans, those who are homeless.
Among the handouts at the event was the 2013 Homeless Veterans Resource guide for northern New Hampshire, Vermont and western Maine, with a number to call in case of crisis or homelessness printed clearly on the front:1-877-424-3838.
The guide is presented by the New Hampshire North Country Veterans Committee.
"There are many hidden homeless veterans,"said Jo Moncher, bureau chief of community based military programs at the state Department of Health and Human Services. She said all the groups that come together in this veterans' initiative make for "creative collaboration," adding, "That's nothing new for the North Country."
Also speaking at the event and offering their support were District 1 Executive Councilor Ray Burton and Rob Norris, Homeless outreach worker with the White River Junction, Vt. VA Medical Center.
Retired U.S. Army Captain John Pagan spoke from the heart. "We carry our wounds deep in our souls," he said. "Sometimes we need to find somebody like Pastor Canter to talk to."
Readjusting after deployment is challenging for the soldier, he said, even if he did not see combat. "The world hasn't stopped and waited for him, the world has moved on."
He said the negative effects from deployment can crop up years after serving. "Down the road, in the silence of the night, that's when those issues will come back."
He praised the services offered, and the people who stand together to offer them. "The veteran community is not a community, it's a family."
For more information on the Berlin Vet Center, call 752-2571. For Vet to Vet, call 1-888-634-9412.
Harbor Homes offers short-term help for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, along with temporary financial assistance, housing assistance and case management. Harbor Homes can be reached at 882-3616.