A group of volunteers is trying to turn a Chelsea, Vt. farm into a sanctuary for veterans -- imagining an oasis of peace and calm in a sea of PTSD, joblessness and suicide.
Men and women returning from war face a double-digit unemployment rate. The V.A. reports as many as 22 service members take their own lives everyday. The hope for the Warrior Spirit Ranch is that soldiers can stay as long as they need to heal, organizers said.
"I think this place will be a lot different," Dave Morgan said. His organization, Vet to Vet, is made up of veterans who respond to crisis calls of other vets. "A lot of the vets that I've worked with, and with some of the housing they have now, they are constantly worried about when they have to leave," he said, "which is really hard to focus on the other stuff that you need to work on."
The organizers said they want to serve up to 150 veterans with a staff of more than a hundred volunteers. They see the ranch serving three different groups: people in distress; those in transition back to civilian life; and veterans who are homeless. Some will live in the farmhouse when it is upgraded, others will live in tipi-shaped cabins designed to be green and off-the-grid.
"We wanted everything to be holistic and sustainable with farming and things like that," founder and director Cherylanne Linares said. Veterans will eventually run the day-to-day operations of the farm to grow their own food. Plans are even in the works for a country store, she said.
The ranch will also have a strong Native American component. "We're pulling in the warrior spirit with how Native Americans honor their veterans." Linares said when warriors in tribes come back from war, they are honored, whereas, American society as a whole does not do a good enough job helping them return to regular life.
To buy the land, the group needs to raise $500,000 by April. The ultimate goal is $4 million dollars. So far, they said they have raised about $100,000.
To Morgan, he said this is what Vermont needs now. "We are caretakers too, just in a different way," Morgan said, "And it is really hard to ask for help, plus we are trained not to."