Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
An eight-week program for veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom designed to help them readjust to civilian life is now available in Cherokee County.
Operation Resilient Families – a peer-based support group that offers basic education and skill development – kicks off 6 p.m. Monday, June 17, at Jacksonville's Central Baptist Church, 1909 E. Rusk.
According to the Lone Star Veterans website, “through a series of facilitated discussions and exercises, Operation Resilient Families participants identify theEir own family's strengths, resources and challenging situations,” according to a link on the Lone Star Veterans website.
The Texas Mental Health Transformation site describes the program as helping to “improve your understanding of common OEF/OIF readjustment experiences” while making “new friends who share the bond of having served – on the battle field and on the home-front.”
J.D. Collett, a veteran-certified peer specialist with the Andrews Center in Tyler, said the program is invaluable in helping veterans and their families because it gives them the tools needed to help forge a new life together.
“One of the things (veterans and their families) run into is that a lot of things change” while they're away, even though their families might not consider them huge changes, Collett said. “This is a way to let others know that there are people in the community who (have been where they have, with similar experiences) who they can meet, knowing they've got support of those veterans and their families.”
He has led a similar ORF group in Tyler for spouses, in which 8-12 couples have been meeting on Wednesday nights for several months.
“I've really had great success with them,” he said. “A lot of time (the veterans) come back and they and their families have a hard time with adjustment.”
The sessions, however, “give the spouses an opportunity to exchange phone numbers – when you're in a rural area, you feel like you're basically the only ones out there going through this” Collett said, so this allows them to meet up individually as well as a group, drawing support from each other.
“The Tyler group began seven months ago, and it's worked out really great, because there's a real need for the couples group,” he said. “It helps give spouses a better understanding of what the other one is going through … I think a lot of people forget (that) it's a big adjustment coming back home after they've been away, so this is a healing process for the vets and their spouses. I can guarantee you that the ORF makes a big difference for families.”
The program was developed with input from military personnel, veterans, their families and their advocates, and is funded through Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Fund, NAMI Texas, the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services.
According to Julianne Sanford, Lone Star Military Resource Group coordinator, data from the county's veteran service officer suggests an estimated 140 Enduring Freedom- and Iraqi Freedom-era vets in Cherokee County.
While the program is open primarily to them – “it'd be nice if we could get a group of six veterans and their families, or the people who support them, like their best friend or a sibling” – Sanford said veterans who served other campaigns are welcome to visit, too.
“They tend to have a lot of insight, so we welcome them,” she said.
Colett reiterated that while veterans and their families may receive tools and skills to help them navigate this new stage of life, it' primarily “a healing process.”
“It gets them where they get the skills they need to cope, and to reach out to each other, which makes their quality of life so much better,” he said.
To learn more about the program, contact Julianne Sanford of the Lone Star Military Resource Group, 903-810-0303, or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or contact regional.coord-6@resilient families.org.