When David Searles came back from a tour of duty in Iraq, he felt anger and “survivor’s guilt” over losing two good friends. He couldn’t integrate himself back into civilian life.
“I felt that I no longer fit here, and I hit rock bottom,” Searles told a shivering but supportive crowd outside the Center for Life Management (CLM).
But Searles found someone he could talk to, and he came out on the other side.
Searles and his wife, Rebecca, a case manager at CLM, wanted to do something to honor other veterans, and decided to donate a flagpole to the CLM grounds on Tsienneto Road. The flagpole was dedicated Monday in memory and honor of those who have served.
CLM Chief Executive Officer Vic Topo opened the ceremonies, recognized dignitaries and expressed CLM’s “heartfelt thanks” to the Searles family. “This is a wonderful tribute to members of the military and their families,” Topo said.
He also thanked members of the military in the audience, noting, “We can never repay your sacrifice.”
Topo said, “Our commitment is to do more for members of the military and their families.” He listed the issues that plague veterans and their loved ones, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Jo Moncher, bureau chief for the community-based military programs at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), said the community-based program is a new initiative by the state agency to reach out to veterans and their families. The program aims to identify a “military liaison” in each of the health centers and to reach out to the military and their families.
“There are 115,000 veterans in New Hampshire right now,” Moncher said. “We have the eighth highest veteran population per capita in the country. But only 25 percent of those are served by the VA facilities.” The rest are treated in community-based healthcare facilities, she said.
“To improve veterans’ access to quality care, we need to identify them at intake,” she said. “We need to promote ‘military training’ among the health care staff, and we need to have collaboration between the state, the community health centers and the VA.
“The responsibility,” Moncher said, “belongs to all of us.”
New Hampshire National Guard Adjutant General William Reddel said, “Our hope is that our veterans shouldn’t ‘have to drive more than 50 miles to access care.”
Reddel encouraged health-care providers to “Ask The Question:” “Have you or has someone in your family ever served in the military?’”
Searles received a standing ovation before and after he spoke. He said that if veterans are able to talk about their experiences, they are able to fit back in life. He listed the dangers of “suppressing, subduing or ignoring” their experience, which can lead to dreams, memories and flashbacks.
He noted that 22 veterans a day commit suicide. “If you know a veteran who is struggling, please reach out,” he said.
Republican State Sen. Regina Birdsell, who represents Derry, Hampstead and Windham and is a Coast Guard veteran, read a proclamation from Senate President Chuck Morse and Steve Monier, special assistant for Homeland Security with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s office, read a letter from Ayotte, the Republican Senator from New Hampshire. “This is a fitting tribute,” Ayotte wrote, “to the men and women who have served in difficult and perilous times. They defended our nation and kept us free.”
Ayotte concluded, “Ours is a state that serves.”
Ayotte donated the flag, which has flown over the Capitol. An Army Reserve Honor Guard raised the flag to a recording of the National Anthem.
The ceremony concluded with a poem read by Rebecca Searles and a candle-lighting ceremony. The approximately 100 people in attendance were invited inside CLM for light refreshments.
The ceremony was also attended by Rosa Valentin, special assistant for constituent services for the office of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH; Derry Town Councilor David Fischer; Fire Chief Michael Gagnon; Police Chief Edward Garone; State Rep. John O’Connor, R-Derry; and Tony Travia, junior vice-commander of the Derry American Legion.