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Veterans Share Stories And Seek Services At Lyndon State Summit

Charlotte Albright
Brenda Cruikshank, Wayne Marshia, Donald Young, Jr., Bruce Bickford, and Michael Choquette represent VFW at the Veterans Summit at Lyndon State College.

Ask any veteran. It’s not easy to leave the close knit ties of military service for a civilian world that may not foster the same kind of camaraderie. And it can be tough to find the jobs and social services necessary to get on with life. So for three years now, Lyndon State College has invited veterans to a summit designed to bridge generations and link them to community benefits they may not even know they can have.

This year’s gathering on March 14 and 15 brought about 140 veterans — about 60 who have been in combat — to the Northeast Kingdom campus. The summit began with a deeply personal keynote speech by Ruth Crocker, the widow of an army captain killed in Vietnam. Crocker’s new book, Those Who Remain, Remembrance and Reunion After War, traces the steps she took to track down the story of her husband’s death by attending reunions with survivors who knew him on the battlefield.

“These stories provide us with a way of remembering, and without memory, of course, knowledge is useless, so the telling and listening to stories of our experiences and others’ actually has the ability to heal,” Crocker told her audience.

But not every veteran finds it easy to share painful memories. Donald Young was wounded in Vietnam, and now he lives in Lyndonville. Young says he rarely tells war stories.

“We ... got back from Vietnam and there are parts of us that are left there,” Young said. “And it’s hard … to heal someone who has done that, and I still don’t know how to take healing,” he conceded.

But Young does enjoy socializing with other army buddies at Lyndonville's Veterans of Foreign Wars post. They say they were not welcomed back from war as warmly as Gulf War era vets. Still, they would like to see more young faces at VFW halls. “We’re not just there to drink, like people think we are,” said Vietnam vet Wayne Marshia. “Come see us, and we’ll probably be drinking coffee.”

And they might be talking about benefits they wish they could get in Vermont. For example, Marshia says he and fellow vets shouldn’t have to pay Vermont tax on his military pension — which is tax-exempt in some other states. And he does not think that tax-free revenue, like certain disability payments, should be included to compute property taxes.

"National Guard in the state of Vermont, who have served and lived here all their life, once they become retirement age they are leaving the state because they are not getting their benefits as state veterans." - Brenda Cruikshank, state VFW commander

Brenda Cruikshank, state VFW commander, says states are vying for relatively young military retirees with skills and experience, and Vermont does not offer enough incentives.  

“Vermont veterans are not returning to Vermont. National Guard (soldiers) in the state of Vermont, who have served and lived here all their life, once they become retirement age. they are leaving the state because they are not getting their benefits as state veterans. It’s not that they’re not getting them — they’re not there,” Cruikshank said.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Veterans listen to keynote speech by Ruth Crocker at Lyndon State Veterans' Summit on March 14.

But in the Lyndon State gymnasium, other kinds of benefits were on display. Scores of exhibitors and social service agencies invited veterans to see what they had to offer. For example, one group of advocates is trying to launch a sanctuary for veterans called “Warrior Spirit Ranch.” The Department of Veterans Affairs brought a mobile van to link veterans to government programs, including health care. The summit also included seminars on topics like suicide prevention, entrepreneurship and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Student Organizer Dyllan Durham is in the Vermont National Guard and expects to be deployed for the first time this summer. He has no idea where he will end up. But he does want to serve because some of his friends have already given their lives for their country.

So why is it all right for me to just sit back and be like, 'Okay, I'm going to wait for my day?' This is my day." - Dyllan Durham, student organizer of the Veterans Summit

“I have friends who died overseas and they’re doing things that I at the moment am not doing, so why is it alright for me to just sit back and be like, "Okay, I’m going to wait for my day?'” he asked. “This is my day.”

A snowboard rail jam at Burke Mountain honored Danville native Ian Muller, who was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2011. Veterans and their families skied there for free on Sunday.  

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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