Veterans' Families United

 

Written by Emily Anderson in the November 2011 Issue

When Cynde Collins-Clark’s son Joe returned home from his 2003-04 Iraq deployment, she knew something was wrong. She didn’t know it then, but he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Like any concerned parent, Clark would do anything to help him, but she didn’t know where to turn. "When Joe first got sick, I did not know who to call or where to go to get help," Clark said. "My first instinct was Internet searches. There were very few sites in 2005 that I could go to and none addressed what we were facing. The information was general in nature and/or impersonal."

Throughout 2005, Clark wrote several articles about how difficult it was to understand what was happening to her son and to find out how and where to get help. She also wrote about the dramatic changes it was making in her family. Because of her tireless efforts, she was nominated and selected as 2006 Oklahoma Mother of the Year, through the Oklahoma Chapter of American Mothers.

As 2006 came to a close, Clark genuinely hoped and believed that the fighting overseas would be ending. "It was my daily prayer, but when I realized that the conflicts may continue, I knew that I had to do something to help vets and families like ours," she said. "I knew that if I had three college degrees, was a therapist by profession and I didn’t even know where to go or what to do to help my son, then there had to be many, many more vets and families facing the same challenges. In my heart, I knew that I could not, not do something."

So in December 2006, Clark began the paperwork to create Veterans’ Families United (VFU), a 100 percent-volunteer nonprofit. She said when VFU formed, its goal was to "empower veterans and their families in the healing process." As a former educator, she believed that empowerment comes from knowledge and access to knowledge. "Our first extensive endeavor was to develop a detailed website that would address the challenge of war brought home, primarily the invisible wounds of war like PTSD," Clark said. "Our son in Dallas donated his time and efforts to create the website, where we offer compassionate and detailed information and resources for vets and families."

Clark said if someone is too overwhelmed to read through the information, they can click on the "I need help" links to go directly to the comment box. "We are committed to personally answering questions within 24 hours," Clark said. She also said all veterans are welcome and that VFU is honored to serve them and their families. Currently their board has vets and families from every major conflict from the Korean War on, as well as representation from most branches of the service.

Cindy Hood, president of the Oklahoma chapter of Blue Star Mothers, learned of VFU while attending and working the Yellow Ribbon events for the Oklahoma National Guard prior to their deployment. She met Clark and they have had continuous dialogue on the issues that affect sons and daughters when they return from a deployment —especially when stationed in a war zone.

"I remember listening to Cynde speak at one of our meetings and something she said described exactly what we had been doing in our own household due to my Vietnam veteran husband and his now identified PTSD," Hood said. "It gave credence to what I had been thinking for years but didn’t know how to explain or understand what was happening. I now have the information to help my husband after all of these years."

Hood said the website gives a step-by-step process of identifying the issues that surround a service member and their family when they return from a deployment. "Often times we know something isn’t right, but are simply not trained or perhaps too close to the situation to identify the problems with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury). The stress can sometimes be incredible and our moms want to make sure their children are whole. VFU has worked tirelessly to make sure we have the tools to help them reintegrate back into society and be successful."

When it comes to the number of vets affected by "invisible wounds of war," Clark said the most comprehensive report was the 2008 RAND data which indicated that 19% of current vets would return with PTSD and/or depression and that 12% would return with TBI. She said that of the 24,513 Oklahomans deployed as of 2008, about a third could be affected by these conditions.

"When I decided to move forward to create VFU at the end of 2006, I said, ‘I cannot know what I know and not do something,’" Clark said. "While there was precious little time, energy or resources, my motive came from having faced great difficulties and sorrows as I tried to help my son who suffered from his sacrifice and service. It helped me to try to create something good from something that was very painful. It was my way of making sense of the suffering."

Clark said every time she answers an email or phone call or speaks to other families or vets to let them know that they are not alone, she feels she answered the call of her heart. "As we state on our brochure,I am finding that despite the overwhelming sorrow of the loss of the son I once knew, there is opportunity for great healing, hope and change...for him, our families and our country," she said.

Clark wants to give special thanks to her daughter Christy for her tireless work to support this effort and to the UCO chapter of Kappa Pi fraternity that donated their fundraising efforts to VFU which is the largest donation that VFU has received to date. "This is an amazing gift from the young men here at home to serve our military and families," Clark said.

To find out more about VFU and all they offer, visit
www.veteransfamiliesunited.org.

Tags: veterans, PTSD
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