The final battle: Coming home

By MEGAN PALBICKI

One of the things…[vets] struggle with sometimes [is] putting together what happened there when they get home. The rules there are different.” Mark Flower, U.S. Army vet

Photo by RENNIE COOK

Photo by RENNIE COOKPathway in courtyard at Dryhootch in Milwaukee shows men and women who served in the armed forces. The money raised funds Dryhootch’s work with soldiers. 

The challenges of coming home from war are almost as vast and complicated as combat itself. After being in a routine of survival and camaraderie, returning to loved ones can be an uphill battle. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, addiction, homelessness, and depression are only some of the difficulties a veteran can meet upon returning home.

Mark Flower, a U.S. Army vet since 1974, explained the challenges of vets rediscovering their roles after being deployed. While deployed “[Mom or Dad] is no longer mom or dad in an active role,” Flower said. “The dynamic is different. You create a dynamic between [your platoon or squad] … Your basic support system back home, your [spouse] and family, they’ve moved forward but you were deployed so [you] weren’t a part of that flow.”

In addition to trying to fit back in with their normal lives, Flower explained some of the emotional trauma vets can go through.

“They’re in combat,” he said. “They see people die, they may kill people. [They] do stuff that, here, you could technically go to jail for … We’re raised in a Christian society. There is that moral transition.”

Flower is the director of community programs at the Milwaukee chapter of The Dryhootch of Wisconsin, a military-focused, civilian-friendly coffee bar. The Dryhootch of America exists as a support system and as a base for vets and their families and friends from all generations. Flower uses his role at Dryhootch to welcome vets, old and new, into peer-support groups.

“They can come in and have a cup of coffee,” Flowers said. “They start to get more comfortable.”

The unique Wisconsin-based Dryhootch has five chapters, with two locations in Milwaukee alone. The goal for the Brady Street location is to become a vibrant coffee bar like many of its neighbors and use the proceeds to continue to fund its groups and grow the organization.

The Dryhootch is a secondary and alternative resource for vets who maybe aren’t ready for V.A. assistance or for those who are just looking for a listening ear. Liz Faraglia, a barista at The Dryhootch on Brady, expressed the depth of community at The Dryhootch.

“Our mission is to basically be a resource for veterans that have been overseas regardless of their age,” Faraglia said. “Our mission is to help reintegrate them into society, [to] be a resource for them to come if they need places to work, if they’re struggling to find a place to live, if they need furniture, clothes, food. We try to reach out them and help them get back on their feet … We also have mentoring and counseling programs that we do ourselves and we’re a home for these meetings too.”

“They have incredible stories,” Faraglia said. “These guys are walking history books; they’re walking movies.”

In addition to Dryhootch, local veterans affairs centers, such as Milwaukee’s Clement J. Zablocki Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center, have been increasing the types of therapy offered to vets and their families. For some vets, traditional therapy is not easy, so the VA center has begun therapeutic services in nontraditional forms. Some of these therapies include art, music, yoga, equestrian and tai chi therapy. Every year, the VA center hosts a creative arts festival, showcasing local veteran art.

According to Gary Kunich, Air Force veteran and public affairs officer at Zablocki VA, the biggest challenge of veterans coming home from a tour is letting them know that there are resources for them.
“Some people are afraid to get care,” Kunich said. “We don’t want them to be. There is still a stigma.”

The VA also offers resources for family members of vets, who may also have a difficult transition when their loved ones return, including preparation classes on how to reintegrate a returning vet back into civilian life.

“They want to come home to a normal lifestyle,” Faraglia said. “Be aware that they can come home with a lot of baggage, but don’t assume that’s what they are going to come home with. Be as supportive and loving as you were when they left.”

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