By: Jonathan Algor, Jocelyn Benson, Tova Neugut and Kate Rosenblum, Detroit Free Press
Thursday, July 05, 2012
Brighton veteran Dennis Latowski returned from Iraq suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and instantly grappled with many difficult challenges in his effort to reintegrate into civilian life.
Enter Mike Lehnis, a civilian volunteer with Team Red, White and Blue -- a Michigan based nonprofit that hosts athletic and social events designed to build meaningful relationships between civilians and returning veterans. Lehnis attended a veterans ball with Latowski's family, and the two ran a 5K together, building a strong relationship that lessened the severe isolation and loneliness Latowski felt upon returning to Michigan.
Michiganders are quick to embrace and thank our veterans, but many are disconnected from the war -- and the families who are serving in it. It's not rare for military families to hear neighbors remark that "we don't know anyone serving in the military," despite living close to a family with a deployed service member.
There are many reasons for this. Sometimes we are uncomfortable talking to each other about the decade-long war, or military spouses are hesitant to volunteer information about their experiences. But data show that Michigan's military community is vast -- Michigan ranks ninth of all states in the number who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and underserved -- Michigan ranks last among states in providing services to veterans and their families. There is more we can all do to reach out to our military families to show our thanks for their service.
If we work to reach out to veterans and those who are serving in our community, we can help minimize feelings of isolation and loneliness and close the gap in services and support that affects Michigan's military community.
Consider signing up and offering a few hours of your time volunteering with one of the handful of nonprofit organizations in Michigan that are working hard to bridge this disconnect between our civilian and military families.
Groups like Team Red, White and Blue, the Military Spouses of Michigan, and Strong Families seek to partner civilian volunteers with military families and veterans, one family at a time, helping to forge relationships that foster resilience. Help us ensure that every service member, veteran and their family knows they are not alone, and Michigan residents have their back.