For veteran Rasheem Howell, reintegrating to society was difficult because it was like leaving his family.
“When I first joined, I was leaving my immediate family, then I served for eight years, and then when I got out, I was leaving my family and my troop behind,” said Howel, a United Way case managerl. “I felt like a traitor.”
United Way of Miami-Dade hosted a panel discussion ahead of Memorial Day on Wednesday night about veterans and their transition from active duty to civilian life
Many organizations that work with veterans programs were present at the Coral Way event, such as The Mission Continues, Shake-A-Leg and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Derek Auguste, a veteran and Miami 1st Platoon leader from The Mission Continues, said the organization is about bringing civilians and veterans together to have meaningful and impactful work in their community through environmental service projects.
“Mission Continues is all about growing your network, building a new unit outside of the military and showing the veterans what they are good at,” said Auguste. “Those skills are still present. Activate them. Get involved, get engaged.”
During the discussion, retired Navy Chief Janette Chandler spoke about the importance of the holiday.
“Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the military,” said Chandler. “It is an important day in which we ground ourselves to the reality that our life has been possible by those who have served and by those who have lost.”
Michelle Zielenski, chief of staff for the Women Veterans program manager, stated that the fastest-growing group of veterans are women. The programs offer health care for women veterans and their families.
According to Zielenski there are 2.2 million women veterans in the United States. Just in the area from Broward County to Key West there are more than 7,000 women enrolled in the veterans affairs program, where they can get primary care, have procedures done and see their mental health provider all in the same place.
Similarly, Shake-A-Leg offers a free program for veterans and their families, including outdoor activities and water sports like sailing, fishing and paddling that work as therapeutic activities. Katie Oswald, assistant to the president at the non-profit, said veterans who have attended these activities have seen positive results in their health and lifestyles because these types of exercises really decrease their stress levels.
“The meaning of Memorial Day is lost,” said Frank Ramirez, a veteran of the Marine Corps and president of the Wells Fargo veterans network for Florida. “People just see it as a day off or party day but what I’m going to do this weekend is going up to the National Cemetery up north, and we are going to put flags.”
Auguste said that if people want to honor the fallen soldiers on this Memorial Day, they should do it as they can but that they should always take some time to reflect that everything they have — the freedom to go to the beach this weekend or the way they are celebrating — is a result of “the sacrifice of those who gave their lives protecting so the population wouldn’t suffer any fear.”
The purpose of these events is to reinforce and show veterans the many ways they have to transition in a healthy way.
“We do this so every veteran knows what’s out there, that they are not alone, they are not lost and that there’s assistance for them out there. We have served over 477 veterans,” said Howell.
“At United Way, we always have each other’s six,” he added, referring to having someone’s back.