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Vet Support Group offered at Lehigh Acres Senior Center
June 13, 2018

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A new group started at the Lehigh Acres Senior Center after a veteran wanted to have a way to connect with other veterans without a smoking and drinking environment involved.

Army veteran Kimberly Jacobs began the Vet Support Group at the center earlier this year after talking with Lehigh Acres Senior Center Manager Melissa Berry, whose board thought it was an excellent idea.

"We are not trying to replace what is happening with the VFW, or American Legion. They have their place and they are awesome at what they do. We are trying to add a different level to it," Berry said.

The Vet Support Group meets every other Tuesday at 6 p.m. It typically runs until 7:30 p.m., but Jacobs said she has stayed until 9 p.m. talking and enjoying other veteran's company. She said with the next meeting scheduled for July 3, they may push it back to the following Tuesday.

The group is open to veterans, spouses, significant others and family members.

"It's very empowering to be able to empower others," Jacobs said.

So far a number of groups have stopped by and presented various human therapy techniques, such as information about horse riding, mediation, gardening, essential oils for therapy and healing, painting rocks, as well as massage therapy.

"We are trying to have a way for veterans to come together," Jacobs said.

So far the group has attracted anywhere from three veterans to 13. Jacobs said the group has some generation gaps.

"It's kind of interesting because we have different ways of thinking about things," she said of being a Cold War era veteran.

Jacobs said although Vietnam veterans served in a different era, they faced the same things other veterans faced.

"Just because they are older they did share the same experiences," she said.

Berry said the first meeting featured Keith Campbell with American Military Veterans Foundation. She said he shared information about CAMO alert, a program they are trying to get passed through legislation. She said one of the concepts he talked about was creating a veteran safe place where they can go and get the help they need.

A safe place is something the Lehigh Acres Senior Center is onboard with doing.

"They would come here when they are at the point of breaking down. They would come here and I would call Kim, or Keith and say I have a vet that needs help," Berry said.

The veteran would be offered a quiet place away from everyone, as well as someone trained to help calm them down.

Berry said she is in the process of getting some training, so she can become involved too.

The Veteran Safe Zone Initiative, Jacobs said, is locations willing to work with veterans. Those who need help have to show proof that they are a veteran.

"If they are dealing with PTSD, that location will have a contact list of veterans close to them that can drop everything and come to help them," she said, adding that it helps when they can talk to a fellow veteran. "There are other resources to help the veteran in need."

Since the group began at the Lehigh Acres Senior Center, Jacobs said a Lee County Veteran Service Officer stops by the center from 10 a.m. to noon every third Wednesday to help veterans file claims, as well as address any issues they may have.

Berry said is great that the officer provides help once a month with veteran benefits. She said veterans put their lives on the line for us and they should be able to support them.

Jacobs said with her dealing with some of her own issues, it's nice to know there are other veterans out there.

"It's nice to connect with others," she said. "I do a lot behind the scenes to help others, especially my brothers and sisters in arms."

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