Lurking in the shadows of our communities is a hidden enemy. It creeps into the mind, poisoning it, convincing those who once stood strong that their strength has faded away. This enemy is suicide, and it has come for our veterans.
Suicide is on the rise among America’s veterans, with more taking their lives than active service military and civilian populations. Statistics show that roughly 22 veterans commit suicide a day, which is an alarming issue. Regardless of the great work being done to combat this, the statistics remain too high. At least, that was until one man decided to do something unique about it.
Thus enters Major General (Retired) Robert F. “Bob” Dees.
General Dees studied at West-point and served in the U.S. Army. While in the Army, he served as a General Officer Assistant Division Commander for the 101st Airborne Division. He then went on to Command troops in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division and served as the Europe Deputy Commander 5th Corps in Europe, an organization of over 50,000. He finished his career as the US/Israeli joint task force missile defense commander and retired to Microsoft.
During his time in the service and after, General Dees struggled with the thought of how many veterans commit suicide. The numbers were far too high, and nothing seemed to be working to reduce them. So, he embarked on a journey to pioneer a way to create solutions for veterans.
Faith has always been a major part of General Dees’ life, and he recognized that it needed to be integrated into veteran programs. This is why he joined Campus Crusade Ministry for 5 years, wrote 3 books called the Resilience Trilogy, became Vice President for military outreach at Liberty University, and founded the Liberty University Institute for Military resilience.
What General Dees discovered was that there needed to be a comprehensive solution to proven best practices. This endeavor exists under the name of the National Center for Healthy Veterans. On his journey, he found a narrative regarding veterans: that they were broken, risky, dangerous, and never enough. However, this is a false narrative that does both the veterans and the nation an injustice. The fact of the matter is, veterans have tremendous talents and are a national treasure.
The goal of the National Center for Healthy Veterans is to produce healthy veterans. Healthy means physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and overall wellness. Contrary to popular opinion, the VA is not the answer, but rather the private sector is. To achieve this, Bob Dees, along with partners, have founded Valor Farm.
So, what is Valor Farm? Valor Farm is a property containing 390 acres that will serve as a rehabilitation and learning center for at-risk veterans. General Dees’ goals for the property are to aid the veterans on their journey back into community life so they are not there permanently.
There are a few key factors that play into this:
1. There needs to be a community notion—one of the primary factors in suicide and behavioral issues is isolation. Valor Farm will build tiny home villages with 20 tiny homes in each, with a small community center. This affords them a dignified place to live. However, the goal is not to have them be too comfortable because they need to learn to value community. The community center will be a hub where they can cook meals, do laundry, play ping-pong, and other recreational activities. This will allow them to relax and meet one another while healing.
2. The second factor is dignified work and economic opportunity. There will be plenty of work around the 390-acre property. Such work may include building and painting fences, growing vegetables, herding cows, woodworking, and caring for the horses. This work will give veterans a sense of purpose and dignity, which is needed on their path to better mental health.
3. Faith-based trauma recovery and life skills programs will be available to the veterans at Valor Farm. The faith-based trauma recovery, also known as REBOOT, is part of the best practice recovery programs; it’s also a curriculum taught at Liberty University. The life skills programs are empirically based and will focus on resilience. These will essentially teach them how to prepare for and navigate the storms of life. However, the most important aspect of this is to provide the training, coaching, and mentoring that will help them achieve their full God-given potential.
4. When entering programs such as The National Center for Healthy Veterans, participants are often in their situations due to financial issues. Valor Farm wants to offer economic opportunity to its visitors. Veterans will receive aid in the form of mentoring for future employment and entrepreneurship. There will also be a school that helps them become employed and start a business, where they are taught Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.
5. Because of the size and value of the property, there will be faith-based equine therapy. As the saying goes, the horse has a brain the size of a walnut but a heart the size of a basketball. So, horses can sense you, and you can feel the horse sensing you. These horses particularly understand when people are stressed, have trauma, and need healing. They will encourage and nudge at the right time to help calm the spirit and heal from the inside out.
These ingredients combined will help return healthy veterans into American society.
A lot of the mentoring will come from working on the trails and sharing life, but they won’t be alone along the journey. Missionals will be living alongside the veterans. These men and women will include pastors, chaplains, and many others who will have a double occupancy single home in the villages to minister to the veterans.
It should be noted that within the next 3 years, there will be no medical staff at the farm. However, veterans will have access to veterans’ choice, which is a program where if there is no VA facility within 120 miles, the veterans may choose to visit this facility or any other local facility for help.
What people need to get out of this is awareness. Most people don’t understand the full breadth and depth of veteran issues and veteran potential. Unfortunately, people believe that the VA takes care of all the veterans and their needs. Facts dictate that the VA only touches about 30% and doesn’t even help all of that percentage. So, the key point is that 70% of all veterans are in the woodwork of communities and are unhealed.
As stated before, the goal is not to have veterans stay permanently, although some will, but rather to have them balanced in life, be skilled, be able to get and keep a job, and to fulfill their full potential not just at work but as a citizen and contributors of society. Above all, America needs them. They follow well, lead well, possess great skills, and be inspiring role models, coaches, team members, and business professionals. Veterans also thrive in community and like the idea of teamwork.
Veteran suicide is a tragedy in America that is multifaceted. We owe it to them and America to accomplish these initiatives because many hands make light work. Valor Farm is roughly a 6-year build that will cost around 39.5 million dollars to complete. This includes the wellness center, which will resemble a combination of a YMCA and a counseling center on steroids. This facility will use state of the art technology to aid pain, sleep, and other issues. It can also be used as a conference center. But how does this impact the overall community?
The economic impact assessment predicts that there will be a 60 million dollar economic impact over the next decade. Yet, there is more to it than monetary value. General Dees, in an interview, said, “Frankly, in our days of racial discord in the United States, the military is the greatest meritocracy that understands racial equality more than any other institution in America. When you go through basic training or are in combat, you quickly find that we all bleed the same red blood. With the folks on your left and right, you build trust and confidence that goes far beyond race, color, and creed, building human relationships.” Veterans understand that in unique ways and are valuable to our nation at large for that very reason. They will leave this facility positively impacting everyone and the communities around them.
Veterans are one of America’s greatest treasures. We owe it to them and ourselves to extend a branch of goodwill, offering a second chance at a better life. General Dees and Valor Farm will be key players in today’s economic climate to combat veteran suicide and produce real results for this epidemic.
Donate Today to Support the National Center for Healthy Veterans: https://newhorizonsfoundation.com/waystodonate?pid=2280-national-center-for-healthy-vete&Itemid=105
Justin was born and raised near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He grew up with both parents, grandparents, and a younger sister.
Graduating from Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School as a professional photographer, graphic designer, and audio engineer, he went on to pursue a degree in International relations and theology at Davis College. At Davis College, Justin founded the Isaiah 41:10 Homeless Charity. Upon the closing of Davis College, Justin transferred to Liberty University where he now studies Criminal Justice with a minor in Strategic Intelligence and a minor in Psychology. On-campus he was the former Director of Communications and Co-Deputy President of the Alexander Hamilton Society, where he has had the privilege of interviewing some of the greatest political minds who were fellows of AHS. He is also a member of the Strategic Intelligence Society, participating in covert simulation operations and other private practices. Noticeable achievements of Justin include the 1st place prize winner in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science, Multiple time member of the Presidents list and Dean’s list, celebrity connection with DJ Ryan Skyy, and Congressional Art Competition participant. He now serves as the Chief Information Officer for TopDocRX.