For years Americans were great at helping treat the physical wounds of those returning from battles overseas in service to their country, but up until recently, the mental healing process didn’t receive the same amount of attention. Doctors, therapists and fellow servicemen and women took notice of skyrocketing suicide statistics amongst veterans and are taking action. Groups across the country are forming to bring vets together to help them adjust to life as a civilian; speak with others who might be struggling as well; and provide continued meaningful service to their country and their neighbors.
Veterans Community Response (VCR) is a nonprofit organization composed of firefighters, veterans and therapists working diligently to support combat veterans in their postwar readjustment process. Located in Spokane, the group draws in veterans from all over the region.
“Our programs center on the intention of helping combat veterans develop the skills to navigate their post-war challenges to achieve productive and satisfying lives after serving our country,” said President and Co-Founder Darren Coldiron.
VCR recently held a one-day retreat for board members at Talus Rock in Sandpoint as a way for the leadership team to build the visions for the year and give the volunteer board a chance to connect and clear their head. The retreat included yoga, campfire chats, and a Native American sweat lodge—not treatments you might typically associate with those that have experienced heavy combat.
“When we first did the board retreat is was very work focused,” said Co-Founder and Vice President Dante Rumore. “Wwe realized we are all volunteers, engaged in service to others, and if we didn’t give ourselves some time it could become a drain.”
Veterans Community Response hosts multi-day retreats for all eras of combat veterans readjusting to life after service. Retreat activities range from challenge courses, kayaking, yoga and whitewater rafting to Native-American sweat ceremonies, archery, fishing and trap shooting. Throughout the retreats, participants work with counselors and Native-American elders, and their fellow combat vets share effective tools to reintegrate and to rebuild trust, confidence and camaraderie. Each evening, participants gather around the fire to explore common experiences and postwar challenges and to share effective tools to aid in readjustment.
There are several one-day retreats and four multi-day retreats scheduled this year. Group size varies, and this season includes a women’s retreat and a Vietnam veteran’s retreat. VCR also schedules several ski days for vets who enjoy hitting the slopes and bonding together. Being outdoors is key to almost all of the projects the group does.
“It’s creative and therapeutic events in the wilderness that are activities and team building based, and North Idaho and the surrounding areas provide great resources for us,” said Rumore.
While the group is based out of Spokane, Rumore, a therapist at the Spokane vet clinic is a Sandpoint resident and is looking to expand the group to include more local programs and activities for Sandpoint veterans.
“With the people we’ve already connected with here (in Sandpoint), it’s been a very positive connection, and many are just waiting for us to get the infrastructure in place to begin building our team in Sandpoint,” he said.
One of the visions is to have Sandpoint veterans create a local community responder team. VCR’s current team works locally in forest health and community service like helping remove slash and create defensible space for homeowners. They also have a contract with the Washington DNR to reduce wildfire fuels. Team members go through chainsaw certification and help the DNR with projects throughout the summer. The team’s All Hands and Hearts connection deploys members locally to help clean up after storms, fires or other major events, and also sends members to disaster areas around the Pacific Northwest as well as Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and even Sri Lanka. VCR is hoping team expansions in North Idaho and Western Montana will help them make an even greater impact.
“We want cohesive teams that are excited to work together to respond locally, nationally and internationally,” said Coldiron.
As veterans themselves, Coliron and Rumore know that being able to share their experiences with other vet’s new to the group is great for building initial trust in their unique healing and team-building processes.
“We help meet the needs that are not met through government services and other nonprofit programs,” said Rumore.
Veterans Community Response is working to build more programs that will help combat veterans embrace life after military service. The group envisions a center where they can help veterans turn dreams into reality; with metal and wood shops, spaces for martial arts, yoga, fitness and nutrition classes, access to alternative medical providers (acupuncture, functional medicine, massage, meditation, etc.), and a healthy place for veterans to gather for support.
“It is our firm belief that with support, compassion and understanding we can create a safe and structured environment that will promote the healing process for all we serve,” said Coldiron.
If you are a combat veteran and you would like to connect with others who have served in combat, you can reach VCR through VetComRes.org or visiting the group’s Facebook page.