Antelope Valley Press

Veterans keeping loneliness threat managed

- Dennis Anderson Easy Company Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group. An Army paratroope­r veteran who covered the Iraq War for the Antelope Valley Press, he serves as Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s appointee on the

Acouple of veterans walk into a bar. No, that’s a set-up for a joke. This is serious. In managing memories from the long-ago war, a couple of veterans walk into a community meeting and share what happened out in the boonies. And life gets better.

Gerry Rice and Ken Hart served as infantry grunts in Vietnam more than 50 years ago. Ken shares how he sensed an ambush and called it in. Result: lives saved. Gerry shares how his K-9 scout dog would stiffen and alert on the trail when the enemy was near. Result: lives saved.

That reflects some consolatio­n for getting shot at for a year as draftees in a fight they did not choose. They did not ask to be there, but there they were.

It is the sharing of common experience that can heal after war.

The grunt infantryme­n in the boonies at the age of 21 would have been surprised that they were working to save lives again more than 50 years later.

This past week, the Vet Expo at The Highlands Church on West Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P) was attended by more than 300 veterans to access services, clothing, haircuts and each other. But, in the Antelope Valley, it could be a lot of different places.

“I was glad so many veterans turned out,” said Hart, retired pastor at Highlands Christian Fellowship, who was a sergeant with 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam.

“We got a lot of winter clothing passed out,” said Rice, president of AV Vets4Veter­ans, who walked point in a 101st Airborne Division unit.

Community veteran gatherings bolster resilience and improve mental health outcomes for those who returned from the war that followed them home.

It could be the weekly Coffee4Vet­s breakfast hosted every Tuesday at Crazy Otto’s Restaurant on Avenue I. It could be the Monday vet coffee at Vineyard Church. There’s a Wednesday coffee at Scramblez in Palmdale hosted by the AV Veterans Community Action Coalition.

On Tuesday, a congressio­nal aide congratula­ted dozens who attended the weekend Veteran Expo anchored by the Veterans Peer Access Network, a team from the Los Angeles County Military and Veterans Affairs Department.

“You all showed up,” said Christine Ward, veterans advocate and field deputy for Rep. Mike Garcia, himself a veteran of the Iraq War as a Navy fighter pilot.

“You all showed the VA that the Antelope Valley needs their attention,” Ward said. “They needed to hear your voice. And you brought it.”

In the Antelope Valley, opportunit­ies to get together abound, whether you served in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, the Cold War, every clime and place, and if you survived World War II and are hitting the century mark, people will cheer you at a gathering.

AV Vets4Veter­ans hosts a monthly meeting in Palmdale on the first Wednesday of the month. On Tuesday evening Point Man war veterans gather at AV College’s veterans resource center. At www.avvets4vet­ And Point Man Antelope Valley on Facebook and

These get-togethers ward off loneliness that can stalk veterans after war, after retirement, after loss of a spouse or friends, or if Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression sweep in like a dark tide.

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy counsels that isolation and loneliness harm physical health. Isolation depresses the immune system, it is “a hole” in the soul, for everyone, not just veterans.

My employer, High Desert Medical Group, is working on a series of initiative­s to reduce loneliness and isolation because we know the outcome is not only better mental health, but better health generally.

You do not have to be a veteran. Find a friend and get in touch. And to have a friend, be a friend.

 ?? PHOTO COURTESY OF DEE BLACK attended ?? Vietnam War veteran James Lynch was one of 300 who the Veteran Expo at Highlands Church.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DEE BLACK attended Vietnam War veteran James Lynch was one of 300 who the Veteran Expo at Highlands Church.
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