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At Issue: Helping families of fallen soldiers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Helping families of fallen soldiers

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BOLTON, Vt. -

"People ask me if this job is tough and I honestly say, no it's not. I get to help them grieve, move forward and find the warm feelings that eventually will develop. I never say people get over a loss. I say, the pain becomes softer," says Tammie Schmitt.

Schmitt is passionate about the families she serves. She is the Army's Survivor Outreach Services coordinator in Vermont.

As we head out Brown's Trace Road toward Kevin and Vicky McLaughlin's Bolton home, Tammie shares what it is like each time she makes a trip like this one to see a family whose life was changed forever by war.

"I want to make sure that I show empathy for them, but I don't want to be too emotional and upset them even more," she says.

Tammie gets a warm welcome as we arrive, at one point arm and arm with Vicky before we head inside. It's just up a flight of stairs and around a corner where the heartache of what they have been through these last nine years is before us.

"That picture of Scott was done from a photograph for the funeral it was put up, this one in the middle was when Scott was down in Mississippi training," says Kevin McLaughlin, Scott's father.

Scott McLaughlin was just 29-years-old and had only been in Iraq with the Vermont National Guard just a few months when a sniper ended his life on September 22, 2005. Kevin always has Scott close to his heart.

"If the digital is right on the picture this was taken a week before he was killed," he says.

On this day, there is something else bringing Scott's family together.

"I had an opportunity, you guys, to take a shirt that your father actually wore and have these bears made for you," says Schmitt.

Kevin and Vicky wanted Scott's two children to have a piece of their father -- in the form of teddy bears made from his uniforms.

"These are his patches, and his Army patches and his name," she says.

Molly checks out her bear. She doesn't remember her dad. She was just one when he died. Tyler was five.

"It's a little hard to cuddle a shirt, but you can kind of cuddle a teddy bear and you never outgrow teddy bears!" Kevin says.

An organization called Arizona Hearts for Heroes makes these fallen warrior bears for families like Scott's.

Vicky says, the continued support means so much.

The Army's Survivor Outreach Services Program provides support to 173 survivors in Vermont. They are the family members of 74 service members, with ties to the state, who died in combat, with most from the war on terror. Tammie says, 35 were from the National Guard, 34 were Active Duty soldiers and 3 were Reservists. She also helps the families of two Marines.

"The point of the survivor outreach services program is to keep the family connected to the army as long as they want," she says.

Tammie helps them with ID cards, educational benefits and finding psychological support. She stays in touch through cards, Facebook and visits like this.

"When you're talking to a parent whose child has died, I don't know what that feels like," she says.

She says families like the McLaughlins have helped her learn about coping skills.

"I thought I was going out to help them doing something altruistic lets say, but really they end up often times making me feel comfortable in the job and giving me tools to help other family members," she says.

If you'd like to learn more about Survivor Outreach Services and the resources available to families, visit: http://www.sos.army.mil

 

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