With heavy rain pouring down and the day turning dark, a handful of veterans kept their positions Thursday along Chief Kepuha Loop in Hagåtña.
Standing tall with a greater purpose in mind, the group held signs they hoped would spread awareness to fellow veterans fighting their inner demons this holiday season.
“You’re not alone,” said Army veteran Jonathan Savares, a member of the nonprofit veterans group Green Valor.
The small group of tight-knit veterans launched their annual holiday outreach campaign in 2014, Savares said, to make veterans aware of resources available to them on Guam and abroad, including treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and counsel for suicidal thoughts.
“You never know what somebody has going on with their mind. We struggle with these issues,” Savares said.
“Our goal is to reach (their) arm, say, ‘Hey, we understand, we feel the pain you feel,'” he added. “If you’re scared, then reach out. Our hands are there.”
Peer support specialists available
Dec. 20 marked the group’s first day out in the community this holiday season. They plan to wave with outreach signs every morning and evening, including Christmas Day and New Year's Day, until Jan. 6.
“If they’re struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or if they’re feeling depressed over the holidays, we have a community of veterans and people that care about them,” said Raymond Shinohara, a Marine Corps veteran and Green Valor founder.
He invites local veterans to reach out to their group if they're struggling, especially when transitioning from active military service to civilian life.
The group can help connect fellow veterans and their families to veteran suicide hotlines, peer mentoring programs and treatment facilities.
“PTSD, suicide – no one wants to talk about it, but we’re here for you veterans,” Shinohara said.
“I want to expose myself and other veterans to show we have a community out here. ... We want to be their first line of defense.”
Shinohara said he and other volunteers trained to be peer support specialists through the Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing them to act as liaisons between veterans and the federal government. Many have been trained in suicide prevention as well.
Improving veterans' quality of life
Green Valor, whose mission is to improve veterans’ quality of life, is made up of dozens of local veterans and operates without funding or a staff.
The nonprofit was recognized by the Guam Legislature during a flag-raising ceremony in July and helped provide homeless veterans free haircuts and a meal during a joint event in June.
“We have to be preventative and do what we can to let people know there are resources out there for them,” Savares said. “A lot of times people blame themselves and think, ‘How can I fix this?’”
Carrying signs that say “Happy Holidays Veterans,” “We’re here for you” and “Veterans helping veterans” – the group hopes their message is loud and clear.
“There are people who care about you and want to hear your story,” Shinohara said.