All Things Soldier: Solid Start

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I am not a veteran, however, when I got home from living in a combat zone for three years, I found myself encountering many of the emotional things experienced by veterans. Because I was never in the middle of a firefight, and never actually saw bloodshed, I was spared a lot of trauma. In essence, I heard the war. Granted, it was close, it was loud, and incoming mortar or Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) necessitated getting into a bunker on several occasions and at times sleeping in my Kevlar and wearing it for days.

I found when I got past the initial, intense relief of being back home that I really didn’t feel much like talking, and those of you who know me well would probably roll their eyes at the idea of me being quiet for any length of time. I was hyper-vigilant, “head on a swivel,” always wanting a seat in the restaurant that was against the wall and with a view of the entry, would hit the ground at loud sounds such as someone dropping the lid to the dumpster behind McDonald’s on Hwy 31 in Athens. I was frustrated that combat parking ( being able to pull out quickly rather than back up) in the Publix parking lot was virtually impossible, and on one occasion when a friend was driving us to a trail ride on horseback, I rolled into a ball at the sight of a soda can in the middle of the road. It could have been an IED.

Those kinds of memories have now become humorous, and are shared by many. I was blessed to have a strong support system; my faith was invaluable; throwing my energy into writing was a crucial part of re-entry; and for all of it I am entirely grateful. It made me stronger.

However, many others have suffered greatly, some falling prey to substances or prescription medications, and some have taken their lives. Therefore, it gives me great joy to let readers of Athens Now know that the Veterans’ Administration has really stepped up with a new support program for vets that have transitioned out of the military in the last year. It’s called Solid Start; it was just rolled out in December, and the concept is quite simple. The VA is now staffed such that veterans who have recently separated from the armed services can expect phone calls and more in an outreach project to essentially check on them, see how they are doing, make sure they are aware of the services that are available to them, and get them connected to the hotlines that deal with vets struggling with suicide. Here is what the newly-formed service has to say about what they have to offer:

Newly separated service members can expect three calls from qualified Solid Start representatives over post-separation, so make sure your contact information is up to date in eBenefits. Save 1-800-827-0611 as the contact for VA Solid Start in your phone now, and when you see VA calling – take the call!

VA Solid Start representatives will not ask you for financial information and will only discuss topics you are comfortable with. Remember that phone scammers often target Veterans, so always be vigilant and protect your financial information when talking to someone you don’t know over the phone.

If you need support for a specific mental health problem—or if you’re having problems sleeping, controlling your anger, or readjusting to civilian life—you are not alone. And we can help. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA health care to get care. To access free VA mental health services right away:

Call or walk in to any VA medical center—anytime, day or night.
Call or walk in to any Vet Center during clinic hours.
Call us at 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387), Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (ET). If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 1-800-877-8339.

There are no words to describe how glad I am that this simple and crucial service has been organized to serve those who have served and have paid a high price in every way to do so to keep us safe. I strongly urge you, if you are a vet or know one who is in need of these services, please avail yourself of them so we can well honor the ones who have laid down their lives for us.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner