Veterans Day celebrated with new resource center
Veterans Day weekend in Garfield County is being marked with the opening a long-sought new hub of resources and camaraderie for veterans and their families.
After working on getting building space for years, the Western Slope Veterans Coalition is celebrating the opening of the Jesse Beckius-Casey Owens Veterans Resource Center at 6 p.m. today.
Though previous efforts to secure a physical space didn’t pan out, Garfield County commissioners surprised the organization last month by giving it the building at 803 Colorado Ave. in Glenwood Springs for a $1 lease.
The veterans resource center “was an idea that became a mission, which has now become a reality. It’s amazing what the county has done for us,” said John Pettit, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam war and coalition founder. “We’re very grateful, and we want to make them and Glenwood Springs proud.”
Pettit had been working on getting the coalition a building for the last four years. He and other veterans started the Western Slope Veterans Coalition after the suicides of two local veterans, the namesakes of the resource center.
Since losing his son, John Beckius, who is the father of Jesse Beckius, has been working with Pettit to make the veterans coalition and the resource center realities.
Veterans services are not “something that’s just lacking locally, but it’s lacking nationwide,” he said. “We’re losing 22 of these kids per day to suicide, and they’re not getting the help they need from the VA, the military or the federal government.”
“It’s the grassroots organizations like the [veterans coalition] that have to make the difference. And having one place to go to get help is invaluable,” he said.
“Knowing what my son went through in Iraq and Afghanistan … the military is great at training soldiers, but lacking in getting them back and integrated into society.”
John Beckius is himself a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. “When I came back from Vietnam, I went from a combat zone to sleeping in my bed in Nebraska. It was tough.”
After coming out of the Marine Corps, Jesse Beckius had all the PTSD symptoms, but he wouldn’t admit it. It’s often hard for veterans to ask for help, said his father. When he came back home from the Middle East, he had an episode: He got drunk, threatened to commit suicide and wound up in a critical care unit, said John Beckius. When he was transferred to a VA hospital, they “pumped him so full of drugs he didn’t know his name and locked him in a room that smelled of urine,” said his father. “I wanted him out of there.”
When he was checked out, the VA gave him a bunch of pills they told him to take, he said. But a week and a half later, Jesse Beckius committed suicide.
He’ll never be forgotten by his family, and this way he won’t be forgotten by the community as well, John Beckius said.
“We’re trying to make sure that vets coming back now realize they cannot exorcise the demons of war,” said Pettit. “War is violent and brutal. You don’t exorcise those demons; you have to recognize that they’re there and learn to manage them by being aware of the triggers that can make you self-destructive or antisocial.”
Another goal of the resource center is to make the community aware that only seven-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. population is serving or has served in the military, said Pettit. “That’s a very small number. And out of that small number, 22 veterans per day commit suicide,” he said. Of the approximately 43,000 suicides in the U.S. each year, about 10,000 of those are veterans, said Pettit.
The veterans coalition also wants the resource center to be a social space. “We want it to be a place where veterans can go for that camaraderie that you lose when you leave the military,” said Pettit.
And the resource center will be a hub of information and assistance for helping vets access the benefits they’ve earned.
“We started the Western Slope Veterans Coalition because so many of these vets need help, and there was no clearinghouse of information about what’s available,” said Charlie Hopton, the coalition president. “There’s so much out there they aren’t informed about, from Veterans Affairs to the Red Cross. So we formed the group to help get through the red tape.”
Many veterans have never had any contact with the VA and have no idea of what they qualify for, said Hopton.
The resource center will also endeavor to help veterans get jobs and housing, and it is partnering with Colorado Mountain College to get vets back into school.
Pettit hopes that local businesses will also come to the resource center when they’re seeking workers. “We could offer them some vets that could become very good employees,” he said.
Garfield County’s veterans service officer is also being granted some room in the building space, along with CASA of the Ninth, the local judicial district’s court-appointed special advocates. The veterans coalition purposefully picked Nov. 10 as the opening day, as it is also the U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday.
The coalition anticipates several government officials to be in attendance, including Rep. Scott Tipton, a representative from Sen. Michael Bennet’s office and Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.