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Fort Lauderdal Combat Veterans Find Assistance in Stone of Hope Project

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Aug 5, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

    Fort Lauderdal Combat Veterans Find Assistance,
    in Stone of Hope Project

    By Gregory Lewis
    August 3, 2007

    WEST PARK - Gerald Hardy served six tours of duty in the Gulf War and in Iraq and would have re-enlisted and done another if the U.S. Army had not discharged him last December.

    Hardy is among about 40 former military personnel seeking help from the Veterans Stone of Hope Project, which helps veterans who served in every war since World War II. The group meets Tuesdays at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8195 in West Park.

    The VFW Stone of Hope Project is sponsoring a free veterans home buyer seminar and expo Saturday at the post to show veterans how to use the GI bill to buy homes and seek other available assistance, such as Veteran Administration medical benefits.

    Since returning home, Hardy has found a job but has a difficult time there. He is beginning to understand with the help of other vets that he's suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

    "I blank out," he said. "My mind goes. I get angry for no reason."

    Hardy is one of about 40 veterans who attend the weekly meetings with people who understand what he's going through because they've been through it themselves.
    Many veterans experience difficulty adjusting to civilian life after having served in combat.

    The veterans told the story of a Vietnam veteran who eats his meals separate from his family because he was a sniper and trained to be alone.

    "The reason I go there is to let it out," said Rudi Towns, a veteran of the Korean War. "When you let out that stress and anxiety, that's damn good therapy. Now maybe they can talk to their wives."

    The post started Stone of Hope four years ago. Besides group readjustment sessions, the project offers individual and family counseling, and refers veterans to agencies that can help them with benefits assistance and job placement. Vietnam War veteran Carrington Scott, who lives in Pompano Beach, said he was exposed to Agent Orange. He had been fighting Veteran Administration officials for years, seeking full medical benefits, which he recently won with the help of VFW counselor Danny Shannon and Bobby Scott, Stone of Hope's director.

    "I've been fighting for my rights since 1992," Carrington Scott said. "I am thankful to God for putting them in my life."

    The Stone of Hope Project, which partners with other programs and services, introduced Scott to V. Elaine Stevens, a real estate agent, and as a result he has purchased his first house in Tamarac.

    Scott's success story gives other veterans hope. But as they discussed their concerns this week, they told sad stories laced with anger and frustration at the system.

    Retired Navy veteran Alex Cassell worked in intelligence during the Vietnam War from a top secret operation in a submarine in the depths of oceans.

    "There's no record of it," he told his fellow veterans. "I'm very frustrated. If I didn't get shot in the butt, I'm not in a war zone."

    Cassell suffers from high blood pressure and other ailments that are associated with post traumatic stress disorder.

    "The bottom line is it comes down to proving where you were," he said. "When the nature of your business is you weren't there, what do you do? It's confidential classified material."

    As veteran after veteran told his story, it didn't matter if they had fought in World War II or the Iraq War. "The horror stories continue," Cassell said.

    The group's psychologist Dr. Patrick Dixon, who sits in on the lively open session, is supportive of the guys but every once in a while injects a sense of reality.

    "That was then," he says, "this is now."

    Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis @ sun-sentinel.com.

    Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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