Copperas Cove VFW and Auxiliary offer hope during the holidays and year round
By BRITTANY FHOLER
As the holidays arrive, so do times of grief for family members who have lost loved ones and for those who are without a family in the traditional sense of the word.
The VFW Post #8577 of Copperas Cove and the VFW Post #8577 Auxiliary are working to step in to help catch those who might fall through the cracks and to help those affected by the loss of a loved one.
Barbara Gardner, Auxiliary Chaplain and Lucy Anastasio, Auxiliary President, formed the Grief Support Group at the VFW Post #8577 back in August. Each month, individuals who have lost a loved one- whether that is a spouse, child, sibling, parent, friend, family member or pet- meet at the VFW to share and support each other.
Representatives from the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors, located at 1103 W. Stan Schlueter Loop, Bldg A, Ste 100 in Killeen, come to the Grief Support Group each month to share what services Endeavors offers to the community.
Endeavors is a faith-based organization that offers case management, professional counseling, and crisis intervention for individuals experiencing homelessness and/or in need of crisis intervention, as well as employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
They also offer assistance with homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing, employment services, mental health care and military life transition assistance for Veterans and their families, as well as emergency services and migrant services.
“They tell what Endeavors consists of and what they offer, and we offer an ear, a place for somebody to come because there's not a whole lot of people out there that do grief counseling, and it's really hard to find a place,” said Gardner.
Gardner approached Anastasio with the idea to start a grief support group in Copperas Cove, and the two held the first meeting in August.
Slowly but surely, the group grows each month, Anastasio said.
“Some people don't feel comfortable talking about the loss of their loved ones, but once you get into a setting where you're opening up and you're opening up, it makes it a little easier for me to open up,” Anastasio said. “So people are slowly starting to open up about their problems and how they're managing and getting over it, and you never really get over it. You just learning to deal with it, so they're teaching people how to deal with your grief.”
Gardner added that during the meetings, there might be people who choose not to speak up and share just yet about their loved one or their loss, but they are still listening.
“And they realize they're not alone,” Gardner said. “This is this is not just for widows and widowers. It’s for anybody- if it was a friend, if it was a son or daughter, a grandchild. It's for everyone, and it does help, especially at the holidays.”
Grief Support Group welcomes all
The Grief Support Group is open to the public - participants do not have to be connected to the VFW or a veteran or active duty servicemember to come and join the group and sit in on the meetings.
“We are here to help and serve, and we open it up to whoever needs the help because it's not just the veterans and their families that feel the grief,” Anastasio said. “It's everyone.”
The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, is especially tough, with several holidays that focus on gathering together with loved ones occurring one after the other.
“I don't really like the holidays because of the fact that I lost a loved one,” Gardner said. “I only celebrate every other year because I don't have my grandchildren, so I come to the VFW.”
Gardner said that it helps to meet and talk with other people about the loved ones.
“One guy said something the last meeting- he sat there, and he didn't, you know, he didn't know how to take the meeting, and when he got here, he felt relaxed, and he could open up, and he realized he wasn't alone; and that's what we want,” Gardner said. “We want people to realize we have an ear, we have a shoulder for you, and it's not going anywhere.”
The Grief Support Group meets at the VFW Post #8577 on the third Wednesday of each month at 3 p.m. The next meeting will be January 18, 2023.
Post helping veterans and families in times of loss
VFW Post #8577 Chaplain Daniel Sellers said that the VFW tries to take care of the families of active duty servicemembers and veterans. In addition to helping support the community with its charitable contributions, the VFW is also a wealth of knowledge for families experiencing the loss of a loved one, especially if that loved one served in the military.
The VFW can help the family with everything from providing pallbearers if there are none to helping financially when able to helping with answering questions regarding death certificates or getting a copy of a DD Form 214 (the document showing the discharge date of the individual from the branch of the miliary), or other requirements for veteran funerals, Sellers said.
“A lot of times when the death occurs, we have knowledge, not only because we're veterans but because we had just gone through it with our own families, so when it comes to how many death certificates and things like that, we're here to answer a lot of the questions,” Sellers said.
The VFW is also there for the families while the soldier is deployed and has stepped in to help in the event of anything from a flat tire to replacing a radiator or water heater and more.
“What we do is we encourage people to call,” Sellers said. “If we don't have the capability of taking care of it, most of the time, we know someone that does or has the skill set. So many here when they served, they decided to stay here, so with Copperas Cove being a relatively small community, you kind of know everybody.”
The VFW also serves as a place for veterans to just simply gather, Sellers said. The canteen acts as a fundraiser for the VFW, but often times, there are veterans who come in and just drink a seltzer water and come just for the socialization, he said.
“Sometimes you just need to talk to people,” Sellers said.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ latest report, in the state of Texas, the total number of veteran suicides in 2020 was 526. Of that total, 89 were ages 18 to 34; 162 were between the ages of 35 and 54; 171 were between the ages of 55 and 74; and 97 were ages 75 and older. Texas reported a total number of 3,727 suicides in 2020.
The national veteran suicide rate is 31.7 per 100,000. Nationwide, there were a total of 6,146 Veteran suicide deaths in 2020, which was 343 fewer than in 2019.
The loss of one of their own
In November, the VFW dealt with the loss of one of their own, according to Sellers.
“This was someone we would never expect, but that's the problem,” he said. “No matter what the science and how they teach it, the military- there's just a difference. We're different in how our brain sometimes gets programmed. It's not that we're programmed wrong. It's just different. We've seen death so many times, people don't see it as a big deal.”
Sellers reiterated that the VFW is a place where veterans can come to when they need to talk to somebody.
“It's always difficult to deal with the entire community, and we're not counselors. We’re just people who care, but again, we know who to talk to,” Sellers said.
The VFW Post #8577 is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. The VFW was open on Thanksgiving and will be open on Christmas as well, providing a space for those who may not have one.
Sellers said that all someone needs to do is call the VFW, and someone will respond. The VFW’s phone number is 254-547-1516.
The VA’s Crisis Line phone number is 1-800-273-8255. Callers can press “1” for Veteran services. The Veterans Chat can be accessed at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net. The Veterans Text line is available at 838255.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can also now be reached by dialing 988.