Community makes a big difference for county’s veterans

It took Ray Meyers 35 years to talk about it.

The Vietnam War veteran narrowly survived the Battle of Khe Sanh while serving as a radio operator with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.

Decorated twice for heroism, Meyers came home to suffer through problems with the law, alcoholism and drugs. When ordered into treatment by Boulder County Judge David Archuleta in 2001, he went to the Veterans Center where he learned about PTSD.

A few years later, he spoke to a group of 8th graders at Casey Middle School. One of the students was so inspired by his story that it moved her to speak more openly and directly with her grandfather, who had served in Korea.

That meant a lot to Meyers.

“Allowing vets to tell their stories is restorative for both vets and the communities we live in,” Meyers said. “Community makes a big difference, and communalizing trauma helps everyone get out of their safety zones toward better understanding and healing.

”Meyers is one of nearly 14,000 veterans living in Boulder County. Put another way, about one in 23 of our neighbors served in the military.

Karen Townsend has spent her entire career supporting many of them as a Veterans Service Officer. After 37 years — and counting — working with veterans, she has formed a deep bond, working to serve them as they served their country. Often, in the middle of the night, she wakes, wondering if she’s asked them the right questions to connect them with the benefits they deserve.

“I just want to do them justice,” she said. “They are a unique population and deserve everything they can get, so I don’t want to miss anything.

”Many of them, like Meyers, served in Vietnam. Some are in need of home care and assisted living. Others are moving out of the county due to high housing prices. The younger vets have always been difficult to reach. They tend not to seek help until they get old enough to feel the things that affect them, Townsend said.

In 2007, Meyers and others started Veterans Helping Veterans Now. Today, the work continues through Community Foundation Boulder County’s Veterans Fund.

“Once you’ve been through the combat experience, you think that nothing can hurt you,” Meyers said. “But you’ve been hurt badly. It’s OK to admit that.”

by Chris Barge