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The road home can be treacherous and lonely for veterans adjusting to life outside of military service. Without the camaraderie and shared experiences with other veterans, it can be hard to know where to turn., especially in times of crisis. Fortunately, there is hope and support available. With the help of the Veteran’s Memorial Museum in Chehalis, Veteran’s Journey Forward exists to help veterans and their families heal and find support from other veterans and available services.

Finding a Path Forward

Making resources as low barrier as possible, Veteran’s Journey Forward assists veterans in getting the services they need to move forward, all for free. Services include (but are not limited to) mental health counseling, resource referrals, benefit navigation, and even referrals to medical services and free dental programs.

“A veteran can walk off the street, and we will help them with anything and everything that they’re going through. And if we don’t have an answer, we’ll find it,” said Director Jesse Lloyd.

Veteran’s Journey Forward Chehalis
Peer counseling, mental health counseling, and suicide and de-escalation training are all free services for veterans provided by Veteran’s Journey Forward. “We are bringing each other back together to show that we are here for each other,” said Lloyd. Photo courtesy: Veteran’s Journey Forward

Healing Through Connection

For Lloyd, the commitment to helping veterans is deeply personal. As a former Marine, he faced many challenges while in service, leaving him with severe trauma and struggling for years to find his path. While Lloyd attempted to go down the clinical route and seek help from professional counselors, the staunch clinical environment ultimately didn’t resonate with him due to a lack of shared experiences. With Veteran’s Journey Forward, Lloyd employs an empathetic and casual approach to helping veterans and giving them the immediate support they need.

“A lot of the time, when a veteran comes in and talks to you, they’ll talk to you immediately because they understand the struggle, rather than the fancy ‘wall candy’  (diplomas and certificates) that are on the wall that don’t quite resonate with individuals,” said Lloyd, who is in the process of getting his Masters in Counseling.

“It takes many years to become a counselor, and veterans need services now,” said Lloyd. With strong professional expertise and an empathetic and holistic understanding of what his fellow veterans need, Lloyd has found a calling in advocating for veterans.

“I didn’t have these services while I was going through it and when I was getting out, and a lot of the individuals who have been out for 40-plus years have never had it,” said Lloyd. “Being that one person, you call on at 2’ o clock in the morning when there’s a crisis? It literally saves lives. It’s something I wish I had.”

Veteran’s Journey Forward Chehalis
Through the incredible support of the Veteran’s Memorial Museum and Twin City Rotary, the VJF office was given an ADA-accessible ramp to help serve more veterans. “The museum has been unbelievably passionate about pushing this program,” said Lloyd. Photo courtesy: Veteran’s Journey Forward

Resources for Veterans

With Veteran’s Journey Forward, veterans can peer counsel other veterans and find a support network. Whether a veteran wants to talk to another veteran, needs assistance with paperwork or government affairs, or wants to simply bond over food or a shared activity, all services are veteran-based.

“We just talk and build a community of veterans. I want veterans to be a part of that camaraderie and that environment they used to be part of while they were in service,” said Lloyd.

Starting as a small flagship program with the Veteran’s Memorial Museum in September 2022, the non-profit has grown rapidly. Support groups have expanded and doubled, and new partners are continually being added. Through resource fairs, mental health counseling, suicide and de-escalation training, motivational interviewing, and substance abuse education, the amount of support has been phenomenal.

Not only is Veteran’s Journey Forward a path to finding resources, but they also assist veterans and their families through time-consuming, draining, or emotionally difficult processes.

“If a veteran comes to us and they want to know how to get benefits, we can either help them with that, or we can send them to an affiliated VSO or resources that we have,” said Lloyd. “We are right there holding their hand.”

Support is also available for families in the event that a veteran passes away. During that difficult time, Veteran’s Journey Forward can assist families through the whole process, from burial to documentation, to rent, utilities and emergency funding.

“We are taking care of needs so families can focus on spouses and loved ones,” said Lloyd.

A genuine community effort, Veteran’s Journey Forward does not work alone. With the help of local organizations and services, such as the Veteran’s Relief Fund, Hope for Heroes, Grand Canyon University, and countless others, veterans can discover a vast network of support.

Plenty of activities are available if a veteran wishes to engage in a creative outlet instead of sitting down with a counselor. Whether it’s free, twice-monthly art classes hosted at the museum, equine therapy, or perhaps beekeeping, Veteran’s Journey Forward can help you find what enables you to heal.

“We are bringing each other back together to show that we are here for each other,” said Lloyd.

Veteran’s Journey Forward Chehalis
Veteran’s Journey Forward Director Jesse Lloyd, a former Marine, is constantly amazed by the support fellow veterans have shown since the organization started. “Veterans come out of the woodwork to help other veterans. That’s one of our biggest accomplishments and one of the biggest things we want to keep pushing,” said Lloyd. Photo credit: Marissa Dykman

Veterans Healing Veterans

While seeking professional medical and mental health services is imperative in the healing process, the connections are the biggest healer in Veterans Journey Forward.

“A lot of us, when we were in, had this really tight bond with other service members. But, when we get out, that dissipates,” said Lloyd. “The fall-off rate is about 90%. Bringing each other back together supports each other, and it feels like we’re not alone anymore. In return, it helps mental health, possible self-medication, and improves employment opportunities.”

Even when the details of a veteran’s story can be difficult or private to talk about openly, respect and confidentiality are always upheld. A veteran can use a fake name or go “incognito” when talking to a professional. Just the act of opening up can open a bridge to healing and help a veteran feel supported. “It’s veterans healing veterans. 100%,” said Lloyd.

To make a donation to Veteran’s Journey Forward online, click here. To become involved in Veteran’s Journey Forward, fill out this form.

Veteran’s Memorial Museum
100 SW Veterans Way, Chehalis

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