Counselor launches support group for veterans

U.S. Army and Army National Guard veteran Kelly Kramer first missed the camaraderie and friendship when she retired from active duty in 2009.

Like many soldiers, she found nothing readily available to replace or replicate that connectedness she felt during her 21 years of service.

And that explains part of her reason for launching the free, new, monthly Columbus Veterans Support Group at 6:30 p.m. Thursday — fittingly enough, on Veterans Day, at the Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave. It’s open to all current and past military members.

“I think there’s this need for connectedness, soldier to solder, often because that connectedness is missing once they transition out of the military,” she said. “My hope is that this eventually will turn into a community group of friendships.

“I know it’s needed because I have talked to other veterans.”

The recent U.S. military pullout of Afghanistan triggered the idea. Her first considerable challenge has been reaching area veterans with her idea.

“It’s been hard to find all the veterans around town,” she said, after seeking help from veterans groups such as the American Legion and others. “But I know they are out there because I am a (mental health) therapist and they are part of my caseload.”

But she emphasized that this concept has nothing to do with counseling.

“Our mission is very simple,” she said. “We want to create a space for camaraderie, connection and personal growth.”

She has dropped off flyers at a number of locales. She would like prospective attendees to register at the group website at columbus-vets.com to make certain she can touch base with each person to make objectives clear.

The regular gathering will be “a topic-focused support group for those who have served or are currently serving. The topics could include current events, adjusting to civilian life, deployments, goal development and other military shared experiences,” she wrote on the group website.

American Legion Post No. 24 Commander Dana Bridgewater, who served 12 years in the U.S. Army, said she certainly sees a need for such a group, and would consider attending herself. She acknowledged that some veterans go from the military experience of people literally willing to save their life to the civilian experience of people willing to directly undercut them at a new job.

“It is sometimes a big culture shock to come back to civilian life,” Bridgewater said. “And it can be hard to trust others.”

Bridgewater agrees with Kramer’s assessment that there is usually something of an automatic connection among veterans when they meet each other.

“Sometimes we talk a different language when we’re together,” Bridgewater said. “Because we all know something about what we went through.”

“My hope is that this (eventually) could include events or charity work together or fun runs or whatever,” Kramer said. These meetings are just the beginning of a way to make connections.”