All any military family ever wants is for their loved one to return safe and sound from the grips of the dangers and horrors of the battlefield.
That’s all my family and I wanted, every single solitary day that my brother was deployed in Iraq.
There were a few close calls—several times we could have easily lost him to the war. Still, he returned to us safe and sound. Though, “safe and sound” is an awfully subjective concept.
As I once wrote for my blog, “we [civilians] can all understand physical pain. What remains so far beyond the reach of those of us who haven’t fought for our country and watched our friends die in the process is the monstrous ache perpetuated daily by the memories that never quite seem to go away . . . ‘Why did I live, and he die?’”
Our combat warriors come back different men and women. Many, for lack of a better description, come back utterly broken.
Some are able to get the help that they need; others spiral into a destructive cycle that—at minimum—destroys whatever life they may have known before the war. Some even succumb to the pressure and the pain of the horrible load they bear . . . and sadly decide to take matters into their own hands.
That’s where a place like Veterans Life Changing Services of Gary, Indiana comes in.
Run by disabled Vietnam veteran and Marine Dr. Henry Hitchcock and his wife Bessie, Veterans Life Changing Services (VLCS) serves not simply as a shelter, but rather as a holistic transitional program for veterans in Illinois and Indiana.
“We balance lives and restore hope,” said Hitchcock, who spoke of the mental health, job placement, and even credit repair services that the faith-based VLCS organization offers. He and his wife began the organization in 2010 on the foundation of an already-extensive career of service to our nation and to our veterans.
“The truly major significance of what we do,” noted Hitchcock, “is the act of helping a veteran balance his or her life in a holistic fashion.”
While the center provides the basic necessities, such as clothes, toiletries and other essentials, they also take joy in providing their residents with a morale boost by taking them out for meals at a restaurant or to a movie at the local theater. Hitchcock also made note of the ancillary services they provide to those in need as they get back on their feet, such as providing the funding to fix a broken car so a veteran can get to a job.
“Today, we are looking for a guardian angel,” said Hitchcock as he spoke of the resources that are needed. While VLCS has secured some steady funding in June of this year, the remaining needs are funded by private donations, and the Hitchcock family’s own money.
The biggest item on VLCS’s wish list? “A big passenger van,” said Hitchcock, “we’ve got 27 people here right now and insufficient transportation to shuttle them back and forth to the outings we plan for them.”
For several veterans affected by the help that VLCS provides, their “life change” is now impacting the lives of many other veterans.
“We are major advocates of veteran entrepreneurship,” said Hitchcock, as he spoke of the Veterans’ Café and Grill in Merrillville, Indiana, “The café is owned, run and operated by several veterans—all touched in some way by VLCS—who also happened to have culinary training.” VLCS also actively collaborated with these aspiring veteran entrepreneurs to launch the enterprise.
In an incredible display of paying it forward, these veterans have dedicated a portion of the café’s proceeds to VLCS so that others can continue to receive the same hand-up they did when their need was greatest.
Hitchcock realizes that not everyone can be the guardian angel with the resources to provide an entire vehicle—and he is grateful for whatever anyone can give. Gift cards for chain restaurants like Applebee’s, or local movie theaters are uniquely helpful, as are clothing and toiletry donations are always needed. And—it goes without saying—monetary donations are critical to the daily functioning of the organization.
“Veterans are our national treasure,” said Hitchock, “and some of them have, through the circumstances in their lives, become accustomed to homelessness and hopelessness— we are here to address that.”
Despite their incredibly selfless service to this nation, thousands upon thousands of veterans are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless today—due largely to the invisible load of pain and suffering they bear; pain and suffering that wreaks havoc with their ability lead normal, happy lives after what they’ve had to do.
As I write this piece, I look up at my home’s beautiful Christmas decorations, and I feel the warm heat emanating from the vents as it snows on this cold Minnesota morning. Every single aspect of my relatively normal, comfortable life is cloaked in the freedom that my brother and so many others fought to defend.
Christmas is almost upon us, and it is especially during this time of year when we celebrate the birth of the ultimate purveyor of freedom—our Savior Jesus Christ— that we should remember those who have sacrificed to secure our temporal, earthly freedom.
To paraphrase a famous Christmas song, “as you shoppers rush home with your treasures,” would you take a moment to remember the needs of our nation’s bravest?
Whether it’s an envelope of gift cards sent to VLCS, or a donation of time or goods to a local veterans’ assistance program near you—it will make a difference in the life of someone who has made an incredible difference in yours.
Mary Ramirez is a full-time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com (a political commentary blog), and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show (TheBlaze Radio Network, Saturday, from noon to 3pm ET). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree.
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