This July 4th, along with the barbeques, fireworks, picnics, and family get-togethers, we need to remember the people who have continued the proud tradition of the Minutemen. These men and women are the veterans and current members of the Armed Forces who are serving in the United States and overseas, whose duties range from the mundane, such as a company clerk, to the highly skilled, such as a drone pilot, to the jobs that put them in harm’s way on a daily basis.
These men and women have to leave their families for extended periods of time and follow strict regimens at a pay scale that is far below what they would earn in a comparable civilian field. Often they come home wounded−sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, and sometimes emotionally, or possibly all three.
We all know what Post Traumatic Stress is. However, there are misconceptions about what this disease−this injury−is and what causes it, why some people suffer from it while others don’t, how it affects families, and how best to treat it.
Veterans HEAT Factor (VHF) is a local non-profit organization founded in 2017 by businessman Gus Guadagnino. HEAT is an acronym for Honoring, Empowering, Assisting, and Training. VHF works with Veterans, First Responders and their families to help mitigate the effects of this “invisible wound.” There is no cure. The organization offers support to these men and women through classes on anger management, repairing relationships, and other skills. Guadagnino has provided a large warehouse-size space at Joni Industries with exercise equipment for them to work out with. Yoga classes, art therapy, and job preparation training are among the services it offers.
All of this is free, and because they don’t receive any government funding, VHF relies on donations (large and small) and a few grants. There is no paid staff, but there is a core of dedicated volunteers who perform a variety of tasks, from answering the phone to providing professional one-on-one counseling.
Daryl Lynn Cox is one of these volunteers. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work and is a Registered Clinical Social Work Intern. She also serves as Administrative Director, a job that includes public relations and supervising other volunteers−all this while conducting a private counseling practice outside of the VHF. Why does she volunteer? “I wanted to honor my son, a disabled, retired Army Vet, my daughter currently in the Air Force Reserve (her husband is retired Air Force), and my husband and father, both former Navy,” she replied.
Although there may be challenges to volunteering with an organization such as Veterans’ HEAT Factory−time management, dealing with all different types of people, etc.−it’s very rewarding. “Three of the veterans on my caseload have worked so hard at their personal growth that they are transitioning from being participants into volunteer staff positions.”
Two of those volunteers are Walt and Cristina. They are both veterans and first responders. They’ve been participants for about a year. “VHF has helped me offer better support and understanding to my husband’s PTSD and has made me realize I had my own from my work and childhood,” Cristina remarked.
From her experience at Veterans HEAT Factory, she offers this advice: “First, admit to yourself that you need to talk to a professional; this doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human.”
She describes the benefits: “The VHF does an amazing job helping to slowly deal with these and other issues in a healthy and safe environment. For first responders, it gives you an area to not feel judged and to realize that there are others from your same line of work.”
Ms. Cox remarked, “My greatest success is to walk in the building and see it alive with veterans and first responders interacting with each other and helping each other. To be a witness to that camaraderie when most hid in the corner when they first arrived touches my heart.”
Some of the challenges, on the other hand, revolve around funds, or lack thereof.
“We could serve so many more if we had the funds to promote the services we provide, but at the same time, we need more therapists to be able to serve more. We would love to renovate the building to make it more inviting, which also takes funds,” Ms. Cox added.
Ms. Cox is writing letters and attending functions to promote the HEAT, taking cookies and treats to firehouses and police stations, and sharing the benefits of the organization. And there are many benefits.
One of the most important is the validation that Veterans and First Responders receive through camaraderie. The feeling of belonging and not being the only one experiencing a situation is very healing. Another important benefit is that once healing begins, the participants regain a purpose for their lives and their talents. The suicide rate for veterans is staggering, and several of the participants at VHF have stated that the program literally saved their lives.
Considering that Veterans HEAT Factory started as an idea in the mind of one individual−Gus Guadagnino−and was funded, at first, primarily by him and personal friends, VHF has come a long way in the past six years. They now serve an average of 44 participants per month. The need is great, and Veterans HEAT Factory is doing its part to serve those who have served us.
Guadagnino stated, “With a dedicated group of volunteers, case workers, instructors, mentors, and Peer Support people, such as Daryl Lynn Cox, Diane Scotland-Coogan, and so many others, we have been very successful in saving lives and supporting positive changes for so many suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.”
To learn more about Veterans H.E.A.T. Factory log onto www.veteransheatfactory.com or call 352-251-7015.
If you or a loved one is having a crisis that requires immediate attention, call the Veterans’ Crisis Line: Dial 988 and then Press 1.