Help change lives by supporting Soldier On

To the Editor:

The Altamont American Legion Riders Post 977 is hosting our second annual Poker Run on Saturday, Aug. 23. Some of you participated in our extremely successful first run last year. We raised $10,000, which we donated entirely to the Wounded Warrior Project. This year, we are donating all proceeds to the Soldier On project, proposed for the former Ann Lee nursing home.

Soldier On is a not-for-profit veterans’ housing facility based out of Massachusetts. A $20 million rehab of the nursing home will initially accommodate 72 homeless veterans, with the possibility of 100 more units being built on the adjacent piece of land.

Monday, July 14, I, along with 200 other veterans and supporters, attended a meeting of the Albany County Legislature.  A representative of the historical Shaker heritage site was also there.

The president of Soldier On, John Downing along with 37 current residents of the existing Massachusetts site spoke in support of proceeding forward.

Attending this legislative meeting was life-changing for me.

John downing gave a heartfelt explanation of his dedication to creating a true hand-up environment in which these veterans could regain themselves and move forward with their lives.

Soldier On provides an environment of support, structure, comrade and initiative. Veterans are provided a comforting, safe, stable environment that then enables them to get the help they need to re-integrate back into civilian life. This may include drug/alcohol rehab, help with posttraumatic stress disorder, help with physical injuries, or job retaining.

When civilians sign up to serve their country, they are contracting their lives to protecting, defending, and sacrificing limb, possibly life, at the discretion of the government of the United States of America.

A veteran I spoke to described the training as “being pushed beyond personal limits to being built back up as a fighting soldier.” These soldiers leave the comforts that all take for granted, leave their loved ones to do whatever it takes to defend our country and our people.

The training, the experiences, the life-or-death decisions, the destruction and the fear all have a huge impact on who they need to become to survive.

They are trained to rely on the soldiers next to them for survival, to function as a survival group.

When the tour is over, and they come back to civilian life, that survival training is still ingrained into their very core.

They are forever changed.

Re-entry is not something that happens easily. Everyone comes home a different person.

Residual effects from environmental chemicals, inoculations, destruction, terror, loss of limb or us of appendage, family issues, all have the possibility of leading to drug and alcohol abuse as the soldier tries to mask memories. Some of the exposure to chemicals may lead to permanent changes to the functioning of brain leading to personality disorders, or sudden bursts of violence or anger.

From listening to the 37 residents ranging from a strong healthy 24-year-old, to a few Vietnam veterans, I learned how Soldier On has provided the environment, the rehab, and the respite these warriors so desperately need to be able to re-assimilate.

Many spoke of attempting suicide. Statistics state that every day 22 warriors take their own lives. They all agreed that Soldier On saved their lives. A few of these brave souls, after hearing their brother speak, were so overcome with emotion and gratitude, they were unable to speak other than their name and former military background.

Other veterans’’ programs and hospitals are under funded, under staffed, and just not equipped to provide the care these warriors need and so deserve.

Soldier On provides the brotherhood, the needed help and support. These warriors turn their liver around, they find themselves again, and are able to hold jobs and become active members of society.

Soldier On partners with local businesses to place these warriors in productive employment. Many end up working for Soldier On, in turn helping other veterans in the same manner they were helped.

I felt a need to share what I have experienced with as many people as I could. It is important to me that people understand what Soldier On is about, what it stands for and what a life-changing difference it makes in the lives of those who have stepped up and put their lives on the line for you and me.

Please consider supporting our Poker Run Ride in the run, or stop by for drawings, dinner, and live music.

As one of the veterans at the meeting in support of Soldier On stated, “When you are in a war, you are not allowed to delay, because people get hurt.”

Hellen Wager


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