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Saturday meeting designed to bring veterans together

Rod Wittmier, a Buckley resident and military veteran, contends that younger veterans feel somewhat abandoned in their quest to return to mainstream society – that they are slipping through the cracks more and more on a daily basis.

In January of 2008, a one-night study was conducted by King County Coalition for the Homeless and Operation Nightwatch. It determined that there were twice as many homeless people living in benches, bus stops and bushes (8,439 in King County) as there had been only a decade earlier and nearly one-third of this population was made up of men and women who are military veterans.

Thanks to Wittmier’s grassroots campaign, veterans of all branches, eras, genders and circumstances are invited to spend time with one another under the same roof. The inaugural event of this kind will take place from 1 to 3 p.m., perhaps longer, Saturday at the National Guard Armory in Buckley.

There will be exercises intended to help military veterans feel more at ease as they make the often troublesome transition from military life to becoming a productive member of society in their community, Wittmier said.

“An awareness is developing in this country regarding the alarming rate of veteran suicides in our nation,” Wittmier said. “Many of the people filling our Plateau shelters are homeless veterans and most of those are the ones who have been exploring nonproductive or harmful methods of dovetailing back into life after the military or have even resorted to thoughts of suicide as a last avenue of escape.”

Wittmier’s goal is to initiate a grassroots effort to help veterans stay connected to their families, their community and to life itself.

Additionally, several area mayors, service providers and Veterans Administration personnel will be on hand to tell veterans what benefits are available to them.

Representatives from Black Diamond, Bonney Lake, Carbonado, Wilkeson, Orting, Auburn, Buckley and Enumclaw have all been asked to come, to discuss options available to veterans. For example, hunting and fishing licenses are heavily discounted for ex-military.

Wittmier said as far as he knows, there is nothing of this specific nature happening or available anywhere in the world.

“This is veterans meeting veterans and just talking with one another,” he said. “It is my most fervent hope that new relationships will be born, that the older veterans will serve as mentors to the younger veterans and reveal how they survived the metamorphosis from the military into normal society and maybe some of the younger veterans will be reunited with comrades in arms they have lost touch with.

“Veterans will try and talk to their wives or husbands about the plethora of traumatizing challenges, ordeals, occurrences or nightmares that they face. However, unless their significant other has been in the military as well, they really cannot even relate to what is happening to his or her spouse.”

Wittmier said no one is to blame – that’s just the way things are.

“We have to be able to find a way to show some sort of appreciation, compassion, support, counseling or genuine encouragement towards these brave veterans of all of the branches of the military, who have so courageously fought for our freedom and way of life,” he said.

Those interested in attending or volunteering to help facilitate the event can check the www.VetsMeetVets.org Web site.

Reach John Leggett at jleggett@courierherald.com or 360-802-8207.

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