BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — We honor and thank veterans for their service, but often we don't understand the deep divide they feel in our community after serving.
A Western New Yorker, who has been raising funds for veterans and military families, conducted his own focus groups to help the community understand a veteran's struggles.
It is “Five Year Study” of military and their families and it’s leading to the creation of a new referral service.
"It’s a much bigger journey back than some people think,” declared Bob James.
James jump started his Buffalo Blues for Veterans five years ago. It is a music program that has helped raise over $140,000 for 19 Western New York non-profits that serve veterans and military families.
We met up James at The Cave on Military Road in Buffalo, a music venue. There’s where James unfolded reasons why so many area veterans are struggling in life.
“Warriors are trained not to be wimps and some people think that people that are asking for help are showing a lack of strength,” James stated.
James, with a clinical background as a social worker, decided to conduct one-on-one interviews with more than 90 veterans from different decades and learned why it's so tough for military to return to civilian life, generating his five-year study.
“All the habits that worked for me — have kind of collapsed. We call it crisis of collapsed habits from day to living to employment to family relationships to finances to health to mental health and all those kinds of things,” James described.
“You go to basic training and they tear you down and build you up in their image,” reflected Marlene Roll.
Roll served in Desert Storm and was in the army reserve from 1986 to 1994.
The five-year study found “A woman's transition from military to civilian life is often tougher than a man’s”.
“It was very tough to walk away from a unit and come home and the just not have that connectivity,” Roll remarked.
One finding James discovered was how “Military training discourages reporting on personal needs”.
“When you face incredible stressors or trauma — I believe it changes you at the your cellular level — it is who you are,” said Roll.
There are more than 100-organizations serving veterans and military families, but James says often times it's not easy for them to find the right help.
“We call it rich but fractured — Western New York is rich with services, but fractured, so we felt compelled to try to bring them together — in a single, on-line sources,” remarked James.
That is why James and other organizations are in the process of creating a 211vets.org that will brings all the help into one — 24/7 central referral location.
Another finding James discovered “92-percent of military families feel the general public doesn't understand the sacrifices they make”.
Roll says that's why veterans are so different.
“My mom will tell you — she's still waiting for me to come home,” Roll replied.
The study found the highest need veterans are hardest to reach and more alarming, “65-percent of veterans who commit suicide where never linked to V.A. services”.
Edwin Gadson is a peer support specialist at the Veterans Administration in Batavia.
He is also a veteran who served for 15 years in a branch of the U.S. Navy and struggled deeply himself with post traumatic stress and now works to help other vets.
“And let them know that it's okay — it's normal human reaction,” Gadson explained.
Gadson says its best to meet a veteran where they are and not try to lead them to where society thinks they should be.
“What can we do, as a community — better to help veterans?" Buckley asked.
“Just listen, don't judge, acknowledge veterans,” responded Gadson.
Here is a short list of important links to help veterans:
- Kathryne Coric, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, VA Western New York health care, Phone: 716-862-7384,