The Veterans Place finds its place in Northfield

By Myranda Dewey

Guidon Staff Writer

How does the small town of Northfield Vermont, home to the oldest military college in the United States, support veterans in need? According to a resident at the Veterans Place in Northfield, there is no shortage of assistance in this patriotic little town.

“The community and Norwich University is really supportive, usually the cadets come once a month on Thursdays just to play poker and stuff with the guys,” said Phil Rowell, a former resident and current director of the Veterans Place. “They came and put all of the Christmas lights and decorations up on the day before Thanksgiving. They decorate our tree every year.”

Norwich students are not the only people in town who enjoy spending time at the Veterans Place. Rowell explained that Northfield Elementary students visit the Veterans Place on a weekly basis during the warmer months.

“Every Wednesday the little kids come by to recite the pledge of allegiance. On Veterans Day they had to close the street because of the incredible amount of people who came,” Rowell said.

Rowell listed the traits required to be welcomed in the veterans transitional house, which was opened in 2009 to assist homeless war veterans. The purpose and message of the Veterans Place, clearly stated in the official website, is to assist veterans in the transition from homeless population to thriving citizens.

“Our purpose is to help Vermont’s homeless veterans by providing desperately needed resources in an all-in-one locale so these veterans may regain their pride, reach their full potential, and once again become contributing members of society,” according to the website (http://www.vermontveteransplace.org/).

Members and volunteers working for the Veterans Place cooperate with services for homeless veterans in Vermont to help former service members stabilize their lives and become independent. It provides a range of help, from simple duties like arranging transportation to medical facilities and providing meals, to more delicate tasks like offering emotional support to the veterans, especially those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Veterans Place in Northfield is the biggest transitional housing facility in Vermont. It can host a total of 26 residents, who can reside for up to a two-year period as they try to transition out to live on their own.

According to Sawyer Alberi, a Norwich University lecturer in justice studies, there is a larger underlying problem behind veterans’ struggle in getting back to civilian life after their military service.

“We have a surprisingly large homeless population in this state for being so cold,” Alberi said. “I don’t know what the solution is for it, but one of the ways we can help specifically veterans, is in the effort to make the transition process not only smoother but faster.”

According to the website, one out of every four homeless males in the country is a veteran.

In Alberi’s view, the military forces are trying their best to support their veterans, and as time goes on they are getting better at it. However, it takes a long time for available help and benefits to kick in.

“If you are not ready to stand alone without military benefits for at least a year or two after you get out, you are going to be in trouble, and that is the problem,” Alberi said.

Alberi explained that between the moment a military member makes the decision to retire, and the time they actually get the retirement benefits, there is a long and confusing gap. The process leads to a difficult cycle, making it difficult for veterans to get these benefits when needed the most.

“I have been retired for the past four years, and my retirement is still not sorted. If I was unable to work, or did not have a family that could help and support me, or had a home when I got out, I would have been homeless too,” Alberi said.

While the waiting procedure is not always clear, one thing is for sure: The town of Northfield offers kindness and respect in support of their former war heroes. Right in the middle of nowhere, veterans of the Green Mountain State can be certain that will receive assistance for the reintegration process into civilian society. As highlighted by Mike, one of the Veterans Place residents, “Believe me, this is one patriotic town.”

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