Men and women in desert camouflage trail through the airport, amid voices of “Thank you for your service,” and “Welcome home.” The soldiers smile…perhaps dutifully. They don’t look bruised and broken, but many are. Most of us think because they have porcelain thrones now, and real showers, and are with people and family who love them, stateside life is going to be just fine.
But it’s not always—proven by 18 years of daily suicides among our returning veterans, 20 to 22 per day.
A new local non-profit organization, Vet-REACH, plans to change those statistics. Vet-REACH is an acronym for Veterans Reuniting And Coming Home.”
Rich Lopez, co-founder of the organization, speaks from experience. “The challenges facing the service member when he returns home can be as huge as not knowing what to expect from his wife and kids, or as small as grappling with the speed of traffic, and loud noises. The average person has no concept of what we’ve seen and experienced during deployment. We come home, but it feels like another world.”
He explained when he received his reunion briefing advising him not to jump into drinking and parties, and how to assess levels of anger and frustration, it was too late. The briefing was two weeks after he returned from Iraq. His words are, “I wish I had the information I was given, as soon as I got off the plane. By the time the meeting was conducted, I had already experienced unexplained anger, my kids were walking on eggs, and I was considering leaving my wife.”
Vet-REACH will host our returning veterans and their families at the Retreat at Charleston Peak for a 3-day 2-night rest and recuperation event. Working closely with the staff at the Retreat, they will receive their meals, entertainment, hiking, horseback riding, and other activities in addition to reintegration classes, peer counseling, and the availability of professional counseling--free to the member and his family.!
“We hope to engage, empower and equip our members to navigate the transition stage and mitigate the difficulties that accompany post deployment life.”
Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the family, as they try to reform into a new functioning system. Some studies suggest that relationship stress and family problems can surface immediately and may reach a peak between 4 to 9 months after the service member's return.
Stacey Lopez, Rich’s wife and co-founder says, “One of the greatest challenges for these families appears to be reassigning family roles as the member encounters unexpected difficulty in fitting into a home routine that has changed since his or her departure.”
Lack of appropriate expectations and communication around this restructuring is often the source of conflict and stress for reintegrating families; sometimes knowing that post-deployment is often just preparation for re-deployment. Vet-REACH is also working on a follow-up program.
Research has shown that the whole health method (mind, body, emotions) of dealing with post deployment issues including PTSD, has produced the best results. “It’s why we’re offering relaxation, and physical activities as well as entertainment, and of course good food, all at no cost to our veterans and their families,” says Lopez.
“We want to encourage and support our service members and their families, and truly welcome our heroes’ home.”
Business Development Association of Orange County
Rich Lopez was honored to speak at the Business Development Association/Society of American Engineers luncheon in Cypress, Ca, and share our nonprofit project! Thank you, Kathy Tegeler of Epic Land Solutions and Jeff Davies of Oneida ESC Group, for the opportunity.
We look forward to partnering together to bring our heroes All The Way Home!
Rich Lopez Co-founder of Vet-REACH
Retired U. S. Air Force