Veterans Day Town Meetings

A drumbeat of recent news reports has called attention to rising rates of suicide among soldiers, post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hardships of military families facing multiple deployments to war zones. How communities can help address these often shattering effects of war is the focus of public forums in several cities on or around Veterans Day.

In Hoboken, NJ, the Nov. 11 event is being held at the high school under the sponsorship of Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the Board of Education. It features a showing of “Leave No Soldier,” a documentary by Donna Bassin about veterans helping one another deal with troubling war legacies; a staged reading from a new play, “Flashback,” by Penny Coleman, about the emotional turmoil in families of veterans who killed themselves; and a panel discussion of veterans and counselors with the audience.

“It is important that we honor our veterans and remember the sacrifices they have made to preserve our freedom and our way of life,” said Zimmer. “Equally important is our support as they transition themselves back to their families and society after months or years of serving their country.”

Similar events are being held at the City Library in Manchester, NH; First Unitarian Church in Ithaca, NY; Cable Car Cinema in Providence, RI; Rutgers Prep School in Sussex, NJ, and First Unitarian Church in New Orleans, LA. The events were organized by local civic organizations—including Military Families Speak Out, Veterans For Peace, Pax Christi, Unitarians, municipal officials and students at a private school—as part of the Veterans Day Town Meeting Project. The project is directed by Donna Bassin and Jan Barry, coeditor of “Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans” and a founder of one of the first Vietnam veteran support groups.

“Supporting our troops requires more than welcoming them home, but also listening and responding to their concerns,” Bassin said in offering her film for showings at Veterans Day town meetings. “A big concern for many soldiers and their families is how to handle the transition back to civilian life. A big concern for many older veterans and their loved ones is how to handle the emotional distress of flashbacks set off by current events.

“Among the most emotional of times for war veterans is Veterans Day,” she continued. “Community support is not complicated, but requires a welcoming space where veterans and family members can speak candidly and get feedback, and perhaps useful information and contacts, from a supportive audience.”

“Leave No Soldier,” directed and produced by Bassin, documents emotional journeys by two groups of veterans—Rolling Thunder, Inc. and Veterans For Peace/Iraq Veterans Against the War—that transformed a military oath from the battlefield to social activism. The two groups are divided by their politics, but united in devotion to their pledge to “leave no fallen soldier behind.” Bassin is a psychologist who aided 9/11 rescue workers and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

“Flashback” was created by Penny Coleman, Elana Michelson and Patricia Lee Stotter based on the book, “Flashback,” by Coleman. It explores issues of post-traumatic stress injuries from the point of view of widows of Vietnam veterans who committed suicide.

Veterans Day Town Meeting events:

Nov. 5, 6 p.m. -- City Library, 405 Pine Street, Manchester, NH

Nov. 7, 7 p.m. -- First Unitarian Church, 306 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY

Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. -- Hoboken High School, 800 Clinton St., Hoboken, NJ

Nov. 11, 7 p.m. -- Rutgers Prep School, Easton Ave., Somerset, NJ

Nov. 11, 7 p.m. -- Rhode Island Association of Psychoanalytic Psychologies, at Cable Car Cinema, 204 South Main St., Providence, RI

Nov. 11, 7 p.m. -- First Unitarian Universalist Church, 5212 South Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA

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