New veterans assistance group seeks community volunteers

Memorial Day is a time to honor deceased military veterans and other loved ones. A new local organization called Salute to Veterans (S2V) is working to create a welcoming place for living veterans, especially those from the Iraq and Afghan wars trying to integrate back into civilian life.

Dr. Bill Plested, one of the S2V organizers, told the Ignacio Town Board on May 13, "Every 24 hours in the U.S., 42 veterans attempt suicide; 22 are successful. So one of the greatest risk factors for suicide is to be a veteran."

He cited a 685,000-person backlog for services through the Veterans' Administration. "Those aren't pieces of paper," he said. "They are young peoples' lives."

Returning veterans face a variety of barriers to reintegrating into "normal" life. For some, those barriers seem "so overwhelming that they don't feel they can continue," Plested said.

S2V is modeled after a successful program in Montrose called Welcome Home Montrose. It has a veterans resource center where veterans can meet and socialize with each other. S2V wants to do that here.

Organizers didn't want a name tied to any one community. A salute confers honor and respect, and that's how S2V uses it, Plested said.

"We have a generous offer of a place to have a veterans' resource center where they can meet and talk among themselves," he said.

There are programs and services for returning veterans, but they don't coordinate very well, and they don't provide an opportunity for ordinary people to participate, Plested said. S2V wants to enlist them.

"This isn't a government entity, and we won't ask for government money," he said. "It has to be the community (making it happen) or it won't work."

Organizers are making the rounds of local government boards. Holli Pfau did the presentation to Bayfield town trustees on May 6.

There are 30 to 40 homeless veterans in La Plata County, she said.

"We have many veterans' organizations providing services, but we can do more," she said. "We hope to open a storefront veterans' resource center by Veterans' Day. A place for them to access help and get information. There are many people who want to help, but they don't know how if they aren't part of a military family."

S2V held a big community kick-off event on May 12 at the Fort Lewis Community Concert Hall. There will be more focus groups in the next several weeks to enlist support, and organizers are applying for 501c3 status, Plested said.

Pfau said there will be focus groups in Durango the week of June 2. "We are looking for office space and volunteers," she said.

Plested said, "I want your support as a board and as individuals. Tell your family, friends, colleagues, and get them to volunteer as well."

For more information call 749-0607. Their web site is www.salute2veterans.org. E-mail them at salute2veterans@gmail.com.