Navy Vietnam Veteran Harry Collins always believed he was fine. He stuck to his daily routines and went to work, leading an outwardly normal life. But his “I’m fine” routine never included how to manage his thoughts and emotions following his war time service.
Collins recalled opening the door to the Lexington (KY) Vet Center with tears streaming down his face. Where his mind once was swarming with suicidal thoughts now showed a cheerful, memorable laugh.
Collins credited his life to his local Vet Center.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not a visible wound, and Collins was unaware he was experiencing every symptom listed in the PTSD brochure found at the Lexington (KY) Vet Center. He even chuckled and said, “Who wrote this about me?” the first time he and his Vet Center counselor talked.
Collins felt he was at a breaking point before he could muster up the courage to visit what he now calls his ‘foundation’ [Vet Center].
“I always thought I was fine, but I was not,” he said. “Although we may not realize it, we need someone to talk to beyond just our family and friends. At the Vet Center, you have people who have walked the same ground, they have been there and done it. They know what you are talking about. You know you are being heard and understood.”
For the past 30 years, the community and friendship Collins discovered within the walls of his Vet Center kept him coming back. His foundation of support does not stop once he leaves the Vet Center, it extends to his friendships as well. Collins shared a special bond with a fellow Vietnam Veteran who has become a close friend to not only himself but his family as well.
Vet Centers offer a team-based approach to services, where not only do Veterans, service members and family members build life-long friendships with each other, but they also have a counselor in their corner.
In Collins’ case, his counselor holds a special place in his heart and is more than just a mentor, but a friend too.
“Carla Loveless-Tackett [Lexington (KY) Vet Center Counselor] talks me through it,” he said. “She helps me to see the other side. Carla saved my life. If it was not for her, I would not be here right now. I would have checked out. She is more than a counselor – she is an amazing woman who has become my friend.”
Now, Collins feels ‘centered’ and true to himself thanks to his local Vet Center. He never misses a chance to tell any Veteran or service member who he encounters to “do yourself a favor and go check out the Vet Center.”
For Loveless-Tackett, serving as a counselor is not a job title, it is her passion. For twelve years, she’s learned so much from each and every Veteran and service member she’s served.
“This is not a job to me, it is a matter of loving what I do,” she said. “Our Veterans deserve so much, and I hope I can at least help them through their difficult days so that they can find joy and start to feel laughter and beauty in the world. I am humbled that they allow me to be a part of their journey, share their pain and help them find stable footing. The Vet Center is there for him [Harry Collins] just like he was there for us.”
The Lexington (KY) Vet Center is one of 300 Vet Centers across the nation known to numerous others as their ‘foundation,’ continually helping others to reach, “I’m fine.”
“A lot of us do not know what the signs of PTSD are and think that it is for ‘sissies,’” Collins said. “Even I did. But the truth is most all of us are impacted by what we have been through. We all need someone to go with us. We need to buckle up the strength to get help because the reward is just so unbelievable.”
VA Vet Centers are built to serve communities that ultimately lead to strong bonds of camaraderie and connection. Vet Centers offer an array of readjustment services and specialized counseling to eligible Veterans, service members and families. Learn more by visiting vetcenter.va.gov or call the confidential Vet Center Call Center 24/7 at 1.877.927.8387.