For Many Returning Veterans, Home Is Where The Trouble Is, New York Times, 3 Jan 2011
By Lawrence Downes
UTICA, N.Y.–Across the country a tide is reversing. Soldiers deployed to two long wars are coming back, bringing some of the anguish home with them. Those who leave the service are trying to restart civilian lives, rejoining their families, going to college, trying to find jobs. It doesn’t always work out.
The challenges for returning veterans are particularly visible in upstate New York, around Fort Drum, home to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and some of the most frequently deployed combat units anywhere. Since 9/11, tens of thousands of Drum soldiers have seen two or three, sometimes even four tours of duty. Most who return disperse around the country, but a significant percentage stay nearby. Veterans are 13 percent of the population in the Fort Drum area, compared with 9 percent in the rest of the state.
In that band of fading cities and rural communities, the governmental safety net is stretched thin. With more veterans needing help, a growing network of nonprofit organizations is rising to meet the demand.
Business is booming in the veterans outreach center in downtown Utica. The center, once a YMCA, was bright and bustling on a recent gray, snow-dusted day. Staff members proudly showed the strands of a new safety net being woven into place: dormitory rooms upstairs that will soon be converted to transitional housing, a basement full of donated clothing, housewares and furniture. Classrooms. A boxing ring and exercise room. An Internet cafe.
On Dec. 10, the center celebrated the ribbon-cutting for a new program in which veterans meet other veterans for outings, conversation, friendship. The simple idea behind it: if you haven’t been there, you don’t know.