Listening to veterans


DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – A veteran and a civilian in a room together. They don’t know each other, and the non-veteran just listens.

It is the basis of a project aimed to help veterans struggling to readjust to civilian life, and a local woman says it’s saving lives.

“No one comes home unscathed. You never get over war,” said retired Army Colonel, and clinical psychologist, Dr. Kathy Platoni of Centerville, in a Public Service Announcement for Listen 2 Veterans.

“It is so important to go beyond just thanking a veteran for their service. What is so much more needed is to really listen to a veteran.”

The national project isn’t therapy, but proponents say it’s healing.

Retired Army Col. David Sutherland, who said he struggled after serving in Kuwait, South West Asia and Iraq, is featured in a documentary about the listening sessions entitled “Is Anybody Listening?”

“When I started talking and people started not only listening, but hearing me, I started feeling comfortable in my own skin again,” said Sutherland in the documentary.

“And then it’s not something that’s wrong with you, it’s that something has happened to you,” said Steven Stone, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County .

We spoke with him over video chat. He launched the listening project in 2013 in Ashland, Richland and Crawford Counties. He said they’ve held about 50 listening sessions and overall considers it a success.

“Veterans will talk to other veterans about their experiences, and that’s a good thing, we don’t want to discourage that,” said Stone. “This is about helping veterans connect back into the broader community beyond their own peer group.”

He said it’s also about educating the non-veteran, and removing the stigma of war trauma which he said can be isolating to a veteran.

“When they can share their experiences and they’re not judged because of what they’ve done, and they’re still respected and people are still compassionate — that can be a big relief for them,” said Stone.

He said they’re hoping to create a manual so communities across the nation can implement the listening project if interested.

“That is a lost art in our culture,” he said. “We do not know how to listen to each other anymore, and quite frankly, the impact and power of healing and transformation that can take place simply by that interaction can be profound.”

Stone said he’s making some tweaks to the program and it’ll relaunch in the next few months.

The founder of the listening project has created a documentary about the effort, click here for more information.

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