Latest column in the North County Times

Ever since hanging up my uniform I have been actively working to help veterans make the transition back to civilian life, and for many vets it is an even more difficult process because they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress.  This column is about a nonprofit organization that is doing tremendous work to help both those still in uniform and those who have left the service overcome the challenges of PTSD.

I have written quite a bit about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in previous columns.

For those who have gone to war and fought for their country, it is a fact of life that the battles will stay with them for years to come —- and for many, for the remainder of their days.

It is a testament to both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs that the psychological effects of war have been met head-on in both the serving and veteran communities, but I am not optimistic that the high level of commitment that exists today will survive the austere fiscal reality that faces our government in the future.

That is where the nonprofit community comes into play. There are many organizations out there that are helping veterans both in and out of uniform deal with the trauma that they experienced in war. It is these organizations that I will be writing about in the next few columns.

Not all organizations that claim to help veterans are in it for the right reasons. As I mentioned earlier, the federal government has been providing more resources to veterans’ issues for the current wars than it has in recent memory —- and there are some outfits whose aim is to make money more than to help vets. Those are not the groups I will be writing about.

Those that I will be addressing are the ones that are making a real impact in veterans today or have a plan and the drive to make a significant difference in the lives of those who have served.

The first organization that I would like to introduce you to is the American Combat Veterans of War. ACVOW is a nonprofit group headquartered in Oceanside that aims to help veterans who have survived the physical ordeal of combat cope with the psychological aftermath. They offer a variety of programs to help vets, but one in particular is making a tremendous difference for those who are fortunate to be involved.

The Safe Warrior Outreach Program brings healing to combat veterans who still serve as well as those who have left active duty. This program is particularly important because it brings veterans together in a completely anonymous environment in which they can share their experiences and bond with others who are going through the same turmoil they feel. Rank, position and prejudice are left at the door as warriors join together to share, help and heal as equals.

This is particularly important because many of the participants are still in uniform. The stigma against PTSD is still strong in the military, and the Marine Corps is certainly no exception. Many of the warriors who come to ACVOW do so because of the anonymity that the group provides; without having the assurance of secrecy, many of the attendees would not seek help at all.

ACVOW exists because its president and co-founder, William Rider, knows first-hand what combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are going through. Rider is a combat veteran himself, which in and of itself is not unusual. What is unusual, however, is that Rider experienced some of the most savage combat during the Vietnam War as a member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in a place called Khe Sanh. His battalion had the gruesome honor of suffering the greatest casualty rate in Marine Corps history, and as a result became known as “The Walking Dead.”

Rider received the Purple Heart medal for wounds suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese, and after the war he recognized that it followed him home. In 2001 he co-founded ACVOW and has dedicated himself to helping combat veterans make it back from the dark side. Thanks to Rider and his dedicated peers, many vets have found the healing, and comradeship, that has made a tremendous difference in their lives.


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