Updated: 11/11/2009 12:01:01 AM PST
Incarcerated vets receive community support
Three years ago, Sheriff Tom Allman approached county veterans with an idea: creating a celebration for incarcerated veterans. Though initially met with some trepidation, the idea took root and is now part of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1900's yearly Veterans Day activities.
"We usually have between 12 to 15 veteran inmates in custody. The Ukiah VFW Post does the cooking and socializing. The Willits American Legion Post is very instrumental to this event by raising the necessary money for food," says Allman, who emphasizes that no tax dollars are used to cover event expenses.
Derek Shawk, senior vice-commander of VFW Post 1900, is a Marine who served in the Persian Gulf from 1988 until 1992. The Ukiah native got involved with the VFW three years ago at the prompting of his wife, who is not a veteran but volunteers at their monthly pancake breakfasts.
Today Shawk is head cook for the breakfasts, so it was natural for him to prepare food for the picnic. "The event is unexpected for the veteran inmates. They're very appreciative and humbled by the experience," notes Shawk.
The picnic lasts about two hours, beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a barbecue, dessert and socializing. Several years ago, a Ukiah vet made a comment to the sheriff: "Just because someone has done something bad, doesn't mean they haven't done something good in their life," Allman quotes.
Shawk notes that last year, some of the corrections officers who are veterans attended the picnic. "It was a chance for the inmates and officers to see themselves as veterans."
He feels post traumatic stress disorder is one of the root causes of many of the problems plaguing today's veterans. "While you're in a combat zone you don't have time to think. You're not going to leave your buddies behind by telling a counselor you're under stress. It's when they come home and everything's calm that people start to have problems," Shawk notes. "That's what the word post' means, in PTSD."
What was called "shell-shock" during World War I has undergone several re-brandings. During the Second World War, it became "combat fatigue" and today is known as PTSD. Shawk feels vets have always suffered with post-combat, anxiety-related conditions.
Today's soldiers, according to Shawk, spend months in grueling, unrelieved combat situations, making it very difficult to manage stress. Once home, problems with addiction, homelessness, anger and violence can ensue unless vets receive early counseling. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimated that nearly 200,000 veterans were homeless in 2006.
"Many veterans try to assimilate, but they are not the same person they were before they enlisted, and they never will be," he explains...
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My name is Bernie Weisz. Ii am a historian of the Vietnam War. You may see my profile on Amazon.com. Please see my review of the books: "Selective Memories of Vietnam 1969-1970" by Jack Head, "What Are They going to do, Send Me to Vietnam? by Jack Stoddard, as well as all my reviews that website. I very much sympathize with any veteran suffering with the horrible and real affliction of P.T.S.D. My father died from it and my cousin is in the throes of addiction as a consequence of this plague. My father was a pilot for the Royal Air Force in England, flying a "B-24 Liberator" from 1940 to 1945. His whole family (5 brothers, his mother and father) all met their maker in Hitler's gas chambers. My father was the only one to escape, leaving Czechoslovakia for the U.K. in 1938. After immigrating to America after the end of the war, his nerves were frayed from the 50+ combat missions flying over Axis skies. He took to alcohol as his best friend. He died from cirrhosis of the liver when I was 24, very rarely able to talk to me, his only son, about his demons. My cousin, who currently lives in Tuscon, Arizona, is a "Desert Storm" veteran, being wounded in combat. As a result of his injuries, he has had an addiction to narcotic pain medicine that he has never shaken. His P.T.S.D. is equally debilitating. My task is to speak out for all those vets that cannot. My father always told me "the pen is mightier than the sword", and I have never forgotten that! If anyone would like to offer me their book about their wartime experiences (REMF's welcomed as well) I will be glad to read and review their book on all the major websites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble,
Open Library, etc.) God bless all vets! I can be reached at:BernWei1@aol.com Cheers! Bernie Weisz
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