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November 20, 2017
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Rotary Club honors veterans

  • Justin Thompson, Douglas Bengtsson, Natalie Flood, Paul Belanger, Mike Lyle, Fred Peterson, Rich Rackerby, Geoff Fox, Gary Peterson, Sr., Gary Peterson, Jr., Uncle Jack Hanson, Diana Waite and Art Ferris.

By: Irene Hilsendager
November 10, 2017

A special breakfast was held at Sally Tomatoes Tuesday morning honoring all veterans from World War II to the Iraq War and the event included 13 veterans who were introduced, and shared stories of what combat they served and what their duties were during their time in service.

A Red Skelton video was shown explaining how the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag should be recited. Pamela Pastryk sang her rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner to kick off the event and received a standing ovation for her performance.

Retired veteran, Paul Belanger, 95, who served in WWII, also entertained the group with several military melodies also yodeling his way through some of his songs. Paul also strummed his guitar while musing about how he met Gene Autry and Roy Rogers who were also veterans. Belanger sang a rendition of a song he had written about the “Old Man on the Mountain” which is located in New Hampshire.

A few moments to introduce the new Northbay Veteran’s Center. 

The Northbay Veteran’s Center has recently moved from its State Farm Drive location to 6010 Commerce Blvd., Suite 145, in Rohnert Park.

This center provides individual, group and family counseling to all veterans who have served in any combat zone.

Services are available for their family members who have earned the benefits through combat services and are provided free of charge to the veteran and his family. Many other amenities are available such as re-adjustment counseling for combat veterans and victims of sexual trauma along with employment information, vocational rehabilitation and group counseling.

The Northbay Veteran center is a haven to many veterans including those from Vietnam and the Gulf War.

Al Ramirez, a Novato resident, comes to the center every Tuesday for a writing group. He shares experiences with other veterans, makes close friends and talks about how to cope with depression and anything else that may be on their minds. Ramirez says he was in the Air Force in 1965-66 and his job was a bomb diffuser; maintaining ammunition and boost working bombs. Asked if he knew if it was a working bomb or not; his answer was “I didn’t want to find out.”

Many individuals come for counseling as the return from Vietnam was a trying time and to this day, there is still a stigma and a mere indication that many vets were called a killer of women and children. It will take many years for changes to come about, but when these brave men and women gather at the veteran’s center, they can talk about it and the others will understand.

Michael Payne also from Novato, is a veteran having been in the Navy for 10 years. He enjoys coming to the center and his comment was, “We enjoy each other’s company even though the average age is between 32 and 68, but some of the WWII veterans are now entering their 80s.”

Tumua Faasuna is another veteran that had been in the Army for three years and visits the local center quite often. After leaving the service, she dabbled with odd jobs, driving trucks and working in manufacturing plants. She attended the Santa Rosa Junior college and also has been attending Sonoma State University studying women in gender studies. She says she is very comfortable with the class as she sees so many familiar faces each week and also with visiting the veteran’s center, she enjoys the camaraderie and just likes to hear and tell different stories as they can relate to each other. Tumua leads an exciting life as she and a veterans group swim to Alcatraz twice a year.

Linda Yates, a team leader at the vet center, has been in the business of counseling vets for over 25 years. Since moving to their new digs Linda and four other counselors see about 185 clients who have been deployed or in a conflict from WWII to the present. Part of the mission of the Northbay Veteran’s Center is veterans helping veterans. This center only counsels veterans with mental health services. Other problems are usually taken care of in the larger centers all over the United States.

The Vet Center program was established by Congress in 1979 due to the many numbers of Vietnam era vets who were experiencing re-adjustment problems. Vet Centers are community based and are also a part of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. In 1991 Congress extended the eligibility of vets in response to the Persian Gulf War and served during other periods of armed hostilities after the Vietnam years.

In 2003 the Secretary of Veterans Affairs decided to extend the eligibility to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In the last few years, Vet Centers furnish bereavement counseling to surviving parents, children, spouses and siblings of service members who die of any cause while on active duty, as well as select combat service support personnel in need of readjustment counseling services.

The Vet Center has a goal to provide a broad range of counseling and referral services to eligible veterans in order to help them readjust to civilian life. At the present there are 31 Vet Centers located in California.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event-either by witnessing it or experiencing it. Some symptoms may include flashbacks, combat, car accidents, nightmares and or sexual assault, severe anxiety along with uncontrollable thoughts about the events. One example is the terrible and disastrous trauma that swept through Sonoma County recently with the devastating fire.

PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid even after the danger is over. Some PTSD may start after a trauma and others may not experience anything until months or years later. PTSD often times disguises itself through physical ailments such as headaches, migraines, dizziness, fatigue, chest pains, and difficulty in breathing along with stomach and digestive problems.

The Northbay Vet Center has researched and it has shown promising results when melding video games and therapy. Video games have shown improved cooperation in therapeutic process and improvement in session’s attendance. The purpose of the Local Area network (LAN) group is to improve ways to bring the Northbay Vet Center into modern times of therapy and provide a social support for returning veterans. The Northbay Veterans Center wants to use LAN for parties as a way to bring in younger generations of veterans in an effort to foster peer friendships and tear down stereotypes about counseling. The Northbay Vet Center hosts LAN parties inside the center once a month. The appeal about LAN parties is it does not end after the event. There are several ways they can continue friendship and support after each event. It is often encouraged to stay connected. A therapist will be available during the said event. The idea is that once a vet has been accustomed to being in a Vet Center and interacting with therapists, the veteran will be more open to come in for therapy.

If you are joining a LAN party or need more information, you will be taken and added to the email group. For more information, call the Veterans Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255, text 838255 or CHAT at VeteransCrisisLine.net.