Groups Reach Out To A New Generation Of Veterans
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From member station WUWM, Stephanie Lecci reports on a new group in Milwaukee that is reaching out in a novel way.
STEPHANIE LECCI: Since last year, the VFW has lost about 100,000 members, and closed about 100 posts across the country. Over at the American Legion, fewer than 8 percent of its members are veterans of the Gulf Wars. So Vietnam veteran Bob Curry decided to try something new to attract the generation of vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
M: So a number of them are closing down because they have no membership. So they're a generation that's - oh, my God - like grandpas to the current generation. And then mention Twitter and Facebook, and you've totally lost them.
LECCI: What Curry started is called Dryhootch of America. But unlike thousands of VFW and American Legion posts, Dryhootch is exactly that: dry. Instead of serving alcohol, it runs a coffee shop on the first floor of a small, converted house off of Milwaukee's lively Brady Street - dotted with boutiques, restaurants, and lots of bars. Curry says it's important for vets to be able to reconnect without the booze.
M: How many of us have struggled? I struggled with addiction. How many committed suicide? So out of there, we banded a group of vets who decided that if anybody could help another veteran, it would be vets. And so now, it's been partnering with what we call our younger brothers and sisters to help each other out in whatever way we can.
LECCI: Dr. David Rudd is the scientific director at the National Center for Veterans Studies. He says a lot of those vets self-medicate with alcohol.
D: They're symptomatic soldiers who are struggling, ordinarily with post-trauma symptoms and depression. And you add alcohol into the mix, and you take a disinhibited population, disinhibit them even further - make them more impulsive through the use of alcohol - and it escalates the probability of a bad outcome.
LECCI: Counselor Mark Flower says his goal is to engage veterans without pressuring them.
M: Our hope is that when they come in through the door, they have a cup of coffee; they kind of maybe read some literature - instead of having them have to, let's say, go to the VA, walk through that door, and it's like a commitment. And there's that admitting that there's something wrong.
LECCI: For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Lecci.
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