Veterans Day 2018 has come and gone. I am pleased with the last Newsletter edition that featured information on Veterans and hope that it may offer support for those veterans that may be struggling with their adjustment to civilian life.

The Erie County Anti-Stigma Campaign seeks to start a conversation about the negative effects and stigma associated with mental illness. Anyone can experience the effects of mental illness at some point in their lives. A major contributing factor can be trauma. Veterans can be particularly susceptible to experiencing trauma of various kinds and can result in some form of mental illness. Without getting help, a person can continue to struggle in painful silence. We want these individuals to become more comfortable sharing their issues with a trusted family member or friend, and getting help. With the right kind of help recovery is possible and the future much brighter. To me, there seemed an unwritten code that people in the armed services are tough and can withstand almost anything. However, the stresses of military service can take a toll and it only stands to reason that when they reenter the community help may be needed.

I was a returning Veteran back in the early ’70s. Having enlisted in the USAF, I served as an aircraft mechanic and was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam during the war, I did not experience the danger that so many military personnel experienced, sometimes on a daily basis. I was however conflicted being over there at a time our country was so divided over whether we should be there in the first place. The college protests were at a peak when I was serving and more reputable politicians and national figures were coming out against our involvement. After a year back in the States, I was able to get an early out to enroll in college.

During my freshman year at Canisius College I got a work-study job with the Registrar’s Office and was asked to help set up their first Veterans Office. I felt it to be a great honor to support my fellow veterans. However, to my surprise, many student vets did not want to be identified as veterans even though by doing so they may have been eligible for additional benefits. There was a quiet shame for many about being a veteran back then. Returning vets were in some cases being called “baby killers” and blamed for the war. Many of the college protests pointed to returning military as unpatriotic and worse. How unfair. So many of the military had given their lives, some lost limbs, others had scars some visible, some not. Back then our nation was also polarized, but not unlike it is today. There was a draft and for eighteen year old males, so many of us had to make life altering decisions. The war was very unpopular and for those of us who felt we shouldn’t be in Vietnam, had to live emotionally conflicted. Some even went to Canada, others were draft-resisters, some got deferments. It was a difficult decision for so many. In the Veterans Office, I was energized being able to support my fellow veterans. With the combinations of physical and emotional wounds, many veterans just suffered in silence. It was a such a unwelcomed homecoming for so many, the stigma of seeking help for possible PTSD or some other form of mental illness was only intensified. Thus, many did not seek help back then. Even today, because of the country’s reaction back then, many Vietnam Veterans will greet each other with “welcome home”.

Part of my own impetus helping start the Anti-Stigma Campaign was to help fellow veterans returning to civilian life know that it is okay to share that they may be experiencing emotional issues and that help is available in our community. We hope that by reaching more people in the community with this message, we can get to those that need it , including veterans, and they will seek help. We welcome feedback on what is working locally for veterans and where there may be gaps. Despite my own misgivings about having served back then, I am proud for having served. In closing, I also did learn some things…

Lessons learned from my days in the military…

  • Take regular care of my body, by exercise and diet
  • Be a lifelong learner
  • Challenge myself everyday
  • Be resourceful
  • Be a reliable team member, lead when needed
  • Be community-minded, contribute
  • Regularly donate blood
  • Never, never, never give up

In addition,
I still do “mean” hospital corners and I can spit shine my dress shoes with the best of them.

Respectfully,
Max Donatelli
USAF 1968-1972
Chairman, Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition

Lessons learned from my days in the military…

  • Take regular care of my body, by exercise and diet
  • Be a lifelong learner
  • Challenge myself everyday
  • Be resourceful
  • Be a reliable team member, lead when needed
  • Be community-minded, contribute
  • Regularly donate blood
  • Never, never, never give up

In addition, I still do “mean” hospital corners and I can spit shine my dress shoes with the best of them.