New group offers veterans an opportunity to discover resources, opportunities available to them

by Jo Anne Embleton

CHEROKEE COUNTY – “As You Were,” a veteran’s peer group launched last month in Cherokee County, will offer a place for veterans to gather twice a month for camaraderie and a cuppa joe.

Army veteran Terry Everest, an Oregon transplant who moved to Rusk approximately a year ago, said he hit on the idea after realizing that not all veterans have the opportunity to meet in a relaxed environment where they can draw support and friendship from each other.

“I’ve got a heart for veterans,” Everest said. “We make up 7 percent of the population in the country, and we make up 25 percent of the suicides right now …. What I want to do, is just to get guys together and maybe give them a chance, not just be sitting at home alone, worrying about things.”

According to Cherokee County Veteran Service Officer Andrew Dehart, the county is home to approximately 3,000 veterans, with that number shrinking with the loss of older veterans and fewer numbers of younger men and women choosing to serve in the military.

“We’re getting some younger veterans here and there, a number of them from out of state, but it’s not enough to replenish the number that we’re losing due to age,” he explained.

Establishing another local group will provide veterans more opportunities to get involved.

“The ability for local, rural veterans to have a meeting place allows us (MVPN) to organically build relationships and identify needs,” explained MVPN Peer Services coordinator Bradley Erickson of ACCESS. “We veterans find it difficult to build relationships due to not having a lot of common ground with civilians. Often feeling isolated in a crowded building- bringing veterans and families together for activities or just to sit and talk has a meaningful impact on mental health and your overall quality of life.”
“As You Were” members initially began meeting at the Brookshire Brothers store in Rusk with the store’s full support, but Everest sought a dedicated site where attendees would find it easy “sharing stories, making friends, getting support and giving support.There are guys out there who might not need help, but they’re able to give it … it might not be a big deal, but it’s something I find important,” he said.

Dehart called the new initiative – which begins meeting at the Rusk Lions Club meeting hall on U.S. Highway 84 next to Dollar General at 8 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 6 – “a way to entice vets, to give camaraderie. As veterans grow fewer and fewer, there is a greater need for them to connect with people.”

Currently, there are about a dozen veterans who have been attending the gatherings, the men said, and by setting up an established meeting place on the first and third Thursday of the month – and opening it to local emergency responders – “I think we can build it up to about 20 guys” who will attend regularly, Dehart said.

Everest agreed that a dedicated site has the potential draw more veterans.

“I’m finding that veterans, who were at their last duty stations, now they’re living in Rusk and they’re waiting for something to do here,” he said.

His goal is to “link up” the different veteran organizations of Cherokee County to allow folks to see what resources and opportunities are available to them.

“What I’m looking for is to provide veteran outreach – we need to let them know we got their back, that we are a very spiritual band of brothers,” Everest said.

For more information about the group “As You Were,” contact coordinator Terry Everest, 707-951-2684; Cherokee County Veterans Service Officer Andrew Dehart, 903-683-4012; or Military Veteran Peer Network liaison Bradley Erickson, 903-721-2078.

The Lone Star Military Veteran Resource & Farmers Group has been active for about a decade, offering resources and information to military members, veterans and their families in Cherokee County, including agricultural information that helps families cultivate their own foodstuffs. For more information about Lone Star Military Resource & Farmers Group, contact Julianne Sanford at 903-810-0303.