‘We’re not going to tolerate another generation of homeless veterans’

SMOKEY POINT – The emotional well-being of military members has been neglected for too long.

That was the overriding message of speakers at the dedication of the new Extra Mile Military Care Unit at the Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital Wednesday.

“We’re not going to tolerate another generation of homeless veterans,” retired Col. David W. Sutherland said.

The unit was dedicated in honor of Master Sgt. Leroy A. Petry, the first Army Ranger to receive the Medal of Honor. On May 26, 2008, in a raid against a Taliban encampment in Paktya, Afghanistan, Petry was wounded in both legs during the assault. Soon after, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Petry tossed it away from two fellow Rangers, resulting in amputation of his right hand and multiple shrapnel wounds. He applied his own tourniquet. When he recovered from his wounds, he became a Wounded Warrior advocate for reducing the stigma of combat-related post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Petry said while he saw some psychiatrists after his injuries, he would have benefitted from a facility like the Extra Mile.

“There’s a stigma out there,” he said. “It’s about toughness – suck it up.”

He said everyone needs help.

“None of us made it through life on our own,” he said. “I didn’t carry myself off the battlefield.”

He said veterans, active military and their families need to be strong emotionally, too.

“It makes you a better soldier – at the top of your game,” he said.

Petry said this area is fortunate to have such a facility close by that people in this area have access to, and he hopes people take advantage of it.

“We need to get a lot of people out of that isolation,” he said, adding, “It takes courage to be here.”

He said he met with some of the patients and is excited about helping them. He likes seeing that dependents also are involved as he had not seen that before.

Petry said the president would like to see more facilities like this one so all eyes are on this unit, and he wants to make sure it succeeds and is Gold standard.

“We need more places like this to make our vets whole,” said Alfie Alvarado-Ramos, director of the state Veterans Affairs.

Sutherland brought up that June 6 was the 74th anniversary of D-Day. Two World War II veterans, Leonard Martin and Harlan Newberry, were in attendance. He said that soldiers on the beaches at Normandy “rejected the paradigm of negativity” that is so prevalent in society, even though 95 percent of those in the first wave died. He said Petry displayed that same type of valor.

Matt Crockett, chief executive officer of the hospital, said it is the first psychiatric facility in 80 years to open. He said those hired for the new unit have received specialized training to go “the extra mile” when dealing with the military.

“He hired the best to take care of the best,” Alvarado-Ramos said.

Editor’s note: The Marysville-Pilchuck Navy Junior ROTC presented the colors at the event. A few of the speakers applauded the cadets, especially Angela Delacruz, who sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”

For more information: Smokey Point is a 115-bed behavioral hospital that provides inpatient, acute behavioral health and addiction treatment for adolescents, seniors and adults. Go to smokeypointbehavioralhospital.com.

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