During three tours with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rich Scott saw his share of combat. But nothing quite prepared him for the transition from military to civilian life, he said.
That’s why the 23-year veteran recently founded the Hidden Forest Veterans Fellowship to bring service members in the community closer together.
“I started Hidden Forest Veterans Fellowship because I believe that everyone should have someone,” Scott said. “Everyone should have at least one person in their life to call if they need something. No one should feel alone.”
Scott lives in the Hidden Forest neighborhood, a San Antonio community of almost 700 homes on West Bitters Road between U.S. 281 and Blanco Road. His nonprofit organization is open to all military veterans across San Antonio.
“I love veterans. All of us, regardless of branch of service, started out the same; we felt a calling to join,” Scott said. “Many of us have (post-traumatic stress disorder). Some of us are disabled or handicapped. Some of us are emotionally distant, hurt, cynical, angry, disappointed and confused.”
With the fellowship, Scott wants to create a community for veterans, first responders and their families. The idea is to combat depression with various forms of therapy and friendship-building.
Scott hopes his Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/groups/HFVets/ — can provide a place for veterans to talk about their experiences and offer an outlet to discuss how they are feeling.
He added he eventually plans to hold monthly meetings.
“I’m hoping to organize some meet-and-greets, where we can put faces to names and learn more about where everyone is originally from, their branch of service, where they served,” he said.
In an August 2016 report, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention found that almost 7,300 veterans die from suicide every year, an average of 20 veterans per day. An estimated 13 percent to 20 percent of the 2.6 million veterans who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan returned with PTSD, depression or a related condition.
One of the biggest problems veterans face is finding a sense of purpose, according to the report.
“Service members and veterans who have defended our freedom have earned our enduring gratitude. They should have the opportunity to live meaningful, productive lives, in the same freedom and peace that their service and sacrifices made possible for so many other Americans,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently wrote in his blog.
Scott, who is originally from Oregon, was a soldier from 1988-2011. He completed tours in South Korea and Germany, in addition to three combat deployments — twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. The graduate of the Army Officer Candidate School, the University of Washington at Tacoma and the Naval Postgraduate School is a certified crisis chaplain.
Scott moved to San Antonio in 2013 for work. He said even though it has been almost a decade since he served in combat, it has taken him a lot of time to come to terms with his experiences.
“I couldn’t watch war movies for a long time; they just affected me too much,” Scott said.
He noted sometimes veterans can feel lost after being discharged or retiring.
“In the military we are supported by many others who are educated and have a wealth of experience, we work in teams (and) hard work is frequently rewarded, which motivates the troops to do well,” Scott said. “There is a threat of military punishment for those who fail to follow orders.”
Scott said after leaving active duty, many veterans find civilian jobs that often feel the opposite of what they were used to in the service.
“The result of this can be devastating, because many of us find our identity in what we do for a living,” Scott said.
Wilkie said there is no wrong approach when it comes to saving veterans’ lives, whether it is the VA, care and support from a peer or assistance from a community agency.
“Preventing veterans’ suicide is a top priority for the VA, the Department of Defense and this administration,” Wilkie said. “Our goal is to prevent suicide among all veterans, including those who may not receive care from us.”
Scott said the idea for a veterans’ fellowship came to him recently when he began to wonder how many lived in his neighborhood and beyond.
“When I first moved in my neighborhood, I wanted to know, ‘Who are the veterans?’” Scott said. “Veterans are really cool people. I love to be friends with them.”