The first of four town halls planned by 5th District Congresswoman Kendra Horn featured stories of U.S. military veterans instead of her comments.
It was held Saturday at the Veterans or VA Hospital, 921 NE 13th Street in Oklahoma City in anticipation of Veterans Day Monday.
In a short introduction, Horn said that the town hall would be devoted to “the tradition of warrior storytelling … where veterans will have the opportunity to tell their stories, to describe the pride grief rage or quiet appreciation of a life of service that their service and war has bestowed upon them.”
Jay Williams is one of four veterans on Horn’s staff and moderated the town hall. He emphasized the importance of attendees who were not veterans.
“Non-veterans also have an important role,” said Williams. “As witnesses, non-veterans will be listeners.”
“Actively listening without judgment or interruption is one of the most powerful and supportive roles a community can offer to returned warriors.”
Eleven veterans spoke while the Congresswoman and the Director of the Oklahoma City VA Hospital, Wade Vlosich listened carefully.
In a couple of hours, the town hall illustrated just how broad the spectrum of experience and service is for veterans in the U.S.
It also illustrated how having military service in common was a bond that reached beyond cultures or political viewpoints.
The stories of veterans from the Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Iraqi Freedom invasion of Iraq dominated, but also included those who had served in no-less important, but not often publicized actions of the festering Cold War before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Each had a unique story that had in common service to their country through one of the branches of the military.
One example was southside civic leader Rey Madrid who told of his service in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and how proud he was of his service. He said there were some who spat on him and others as they returned from deployment in small groups as their unit stayed in the theater. But, that didn’t affect the pride he has always had for service to his country.
But another example showed how sometimes military service has come at a high personal cost and not just because of combat trauma.
Cierra Blair had grown up in a small town in Oklahoma having dreams of becoming a nurse in the Air Force. Eventually, she would become a flight medic, but, would suffer from the trauma of an assault she experienced within a few days of reaching her first assigned post.
Fighting back tears she told of a career interrupted by the destabilizing effects of non-combat trauma.
She was one of three women who spoke Saturday who had experienced some degree of non-combat trauma from assault while serving their country.
Vlosich and Horn gave brief responses after the veterans spoke and thanked them for their courage in serving and in telling their story.
After the formal part of the program, Horn and her staff, as well as Vlosich and VA staff, visited with attendees.
Free Press asked Horn for a response to what she heard.
“It’s just incredibly powerful to hear the variety of experiences,” said Horn.
“There’s not one journey for any veteran, and we need to honor all of them. And, we’ve got to listen to understand how we better serve our veterans.”
Horn has been actively listening to the concerns of veterans who have struggled with a ponderous and sometimes struggling VA Hospital before Vlosich arrived.
Several veterans we talked to informally said they thought the VA Hospital has started to turn around under the new administrator and appreciated what the VA had to offer.
Free Press asked Vlosich what it meant to him to hear such a broad spectrum of stories all from veterans that his hospital was designed to serve.
“It connects me back to the mission, but then it also helps me realize there’s so much more we can do as a healthcare system,” he told us.
“The greatest thing that we can do is to serve those who have served our country,” said Vlosich.
He was straightforward about problems the Oklahoma City VA has had and seemed determined to correct them.
“Have we had issues at the Oklahoma City VA in the past? Yes.”
“Are we improving? Yes.”
“Are we where we need to be? No.”
“And so it’s always a growth thing. And I think these stories, the sharing, bringing people in from the community really helps us out and helps us to become a better place.”
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