The Northern California Veterans Museum & Heritage Center will debut a program Saturday, July 6, intended as a safety net for returning post 9-11 veterans and their families, announced Robert Burroughs, founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit organization.
Without fanfare or publicity until now, Homeward Bound volunteers have quietly provided emergency financial assistance, counseling, home accommodations, household furnishing and met the urgent and often critical health care to individuals returning home from active service, said Burroughs.
All too often, veterans returning from overseas deployment leave a life-threatening and highly stressful battlefield with little or no time to decompress and return to a civilian life they are unprepared for and unable to handle, he said.
These combat-hardened veterans sometimes come home to find a spouse, children, parents, siblings, potential employers, landlords and former bosses as well as co-workers who have little or no understanding of the psychological rigors the veteran has endured and little interest in hearing about or dealing with those issues, Burroughs recounted.
A total of 349 service members — active duty as well as reservists — took their own lives in 2012. On average, that is one suicide every 18 hours, reported NBC News. And through April 2013, the U.S. Military has recorded 161 potential suicides with the Army, the largest contingent, sustaining 109 reported suicides during the first four months of 2013.
“The whole idea is to mend the family so the family remains productive instead of falling through the cracks,” Burroughs said.
A returning post 9-11 veteran himself, Burroughs served as a Senior Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy Seabees and was responsible for leading a convoy team in Iraq on 177 combat missions outside the protective wire of a military base or protected area.
During these night-time missions, Burroughs said he and his team were responsible for guiding upwards of 150 trucks loaded with ammunition, weapons, fuel, food and other critical supplies often for hundreds of miles over open roadways lined with debris and trash, any one of which could be hiding an improvised explosive device (IED) triggered by a pressure plate or remotely triggered by an observer with a cellular phone or an electrical switch.
“Guys in my unit were really struggling with a lot of issues once they returned. I helped a few of them with jobs and provided a few more with a quiet place to talk and a bit of home-spun counseling,” said Burroughs, whose efforts to help a few has evolved in a program to provide a safety net for many.
Burroughs and his non-profit board of directors have applied for a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant.
If awarded in 2014, the grant could supply $985,000 for programs in the Vision 21 area that includes all of northern California, northern Nevada, Hawaii and Guam, he said.
“If we get the grant, we hope to be able to provide 1,000 military families with up to $550 in temporary emergency living expenses in the form of vouchers, food, diapers and other non-cash forms of assistance,” noted Burroughs.
The grant will also allow the Heritage Center side of the organization to hire three full-time employees plus a full-time counselor, he added.
However, Burroughs said he intends to start the program on a somewhat smaller, more conservative scale using volunteers and donated funds even if the grant is not awarded.
In preparation, Burroughs and his crew have added another 10,000 square feet of floor space in a warehouse just south of the Redding Municipal Airport to the 6,000-square-foot museum.
The extra space will provide classroom space, computer access, job resume writing and job search training, counseling rooms and quiet spaces to think, listen to music or write.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Burroughs and the Heritage Center staff will unveil the new offices and inaugurate the program with a brief public ceremony.
The Northern California Veterans Museum & Heritage Center is located at 3711 Meadow View Drive, Redding.