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Utah veterans get mental health help at Heroes Haven

BLUFFDALE, Utah — During the past two decades, America’s wars created a new generation of veterans. Like many who went before them, some struggled with their mental health when they came home.

“I joined right on my 17th birthday,” said Tami Flake, an army veteran.

She loved her service in the army. After she got out, she said, she felt kind of lost in her direction in life.

“I didn’t realize, but I was craving that bonding with my fellow brothers and sisters, of just understanding what we’ve all been through,” Flake said.

She hid her mental health struggles. Now she’s ready to talk about it, and that has made all the difference in her outlook.

Haley Hanks, an Air Force veteran found herself on a similar path when she left the service.

“It was a very hard transition for me to get out of the military, she said. “I struggled with depression, very hard, feeling like I didn’t have much of a purpose.”

She felt alone and misunderstood. After sacrificing for the greater good of the military for so long, she felt as though she had lost track of her own identity.

Both women found their way to Heroes Haven, a program for Utah veterans developed by Utah veterans, Frank DeVito and Paul Diamond. Utah veterans gather for weeklong retreats with group therapy and activities focused on healing and developing supportive friendships.

“Giving them the time and space to work back into a community that may not relate to a lot of what they’ve been through,” said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Diamond with the Utah National Guard.

In a safe and accepting environment, they let the soldier tell their story if they choose. Their slogan is Bring the Hero Home because the whole, healthy soldier is not always what arrives back in Utah.

“There is a healing process that has to happen, and there’s work that has to be done on our part as a veteran to get healed,” Diamond said. “And if we’re not willing to do that work, we will struggle.”

Many Utahns Thursday thanked a veteran for their service and most veterans appreciated that. The veterans point out that those who have never worn the uniform may never truly understand what it is that the troops went through. They can still listen, empathize, and grieve with the veterans.

“What I want to be hearing is, ‘I don’t know what it’s like, but I’m listening. I’m here with you and I’m willing to be a part of this,’” said Frank DeVito, a veteran, and co-founder of Heroes Haven.

He said the community should let our veterans know that we are here for them. That way, he said, veterans do not feel as though they are disconnected from the community when they come home.

“We just need to talk about it,” DeVito said. “I think as that happens, the healing that’s going to take place is going to be incredible.”

Through Heroes Haven, veterans are learning to support each other, and how to acknowledge that support from the community.

“Just having an open mind as a community, and letting the veteran be a part of the community again and letting them come back home,” Diamond said.

“To learn how to handle all of these emotions that come with being a veteran, and knowing that you’re not alone it means the absolute world to me,” Hanks said. “I feel like a new person.”

While they build lasting bonds with each other, Flake feared that too many of their peers who are struggling, just as they were, don’t know what resources are available. They’re encouraging others to reach out online.

“As we embrace it ourselves, we’re starting to reach out to each other and say how can I find that? And how can I have the belonging?” Flake said. “To learn more about my mental health, and what I need, and the responsibility I have to what I’ve already been through. I’m just now able to process it.”

They look out for each other and help each other through tough days.

“To me, being a veteran means so much more to me now than it ever has after going through this program with Heroes Haven,” Hanks said.

If you or someone you know is a veteran struggling to find their way, reach out to Heroes Haven at www.theheroeshaven.com.

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