Veteran’s story a reminder of hope

This one is for Iraqi War veteran Ryan Bell and all of the other veterans who have returned home, and are working to build new lives for themselves.

Like many war veterans, Bell — a 2000 Conant High School graduate and Jaffrey native — struggled when he returned to the U.S. in 2006. He needed help dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and his grief from losing a friend who died in service. Life would never be the same and Bell didn’t get the help he needed right away, he told us in an interview last week.

Instead, Bell found solace in drugs and alcohol, which he used to stem the waves of emotion that gripped him as he battled to regain his footing in civilian life. But he was living a lie and on the brink of homelessness. That’s when his family stepped in and encouraged him to get help. Fortunately, there was someone there to see Bell was in trouble. But what about all the other veterans out there, some of whom may have no one to depend on?

We’re reminded of a homeless veteran a Peterborough police officer came across recently. On Independence Day last month, an officer went to check on a suspicious vehicle at Miller State Park on Wilton Road. It was just before midnight. The police log entry reads, “[He] was a homeless veteran who stopped there because it is the only place his phone gets good service.” Sadly, the man declined offers of assistance.

One can’t help wonder if we’re doing enough to help our veterans re-enter society. But Bell is doing a lot. Since getting help at Monadnock Family Services, Bell has turned his life around and is helping those he may be in the best position to serve: veterans with housing issues. For over two years he worked at the Keene-based Hundred Nights, which provides shelter in the winter months. Bell said almost half the people he saw were veterans. Now, he’s at Southwestern Community Services as the agency’s emergency housing coordinator and homeless outreach worker. But he isn’t just sitting behind a desk.

Last week, our reporter caught up with him as he hit the Rails to Trails in Jaffrey, seeking out people who may be in need of housing services, and it’s his life story that could make the difference in making a life-saving connection, especially with veterans. And a $263,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will help Southwestern Community Services fulfill its mission.

Bell’s story is one of hope, not just for our veterans, but for anyone who has found themselves in a difficult life situation. Bell joined the U.S. Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, hoping to do his part. But the war took its toll, and Bell was left to pick up the pieces. He did. He managed to transcend his difficulties and find a way to give back. Who knows how many lives have been touched and will be touched by his courage to overcome.

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