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Not alone: PA Outdoor Veterans hold retreat in Lock Haven

PHOTO PROVIDED A woman who attended the retreat takes a seat next to a tree at Ponderosa Lodge.

LOCK HAVEN — Six veterans attended a special retreat weekend in Clinton County, in-part to spread veteran suicide awareness.

The retreat was part of the goal that the Pennsylvania Outdoor Veterans organization is committing to in order to help end veteran suicide.

PA Outdoor Veterans was founded by Ryan Bowman in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The organization is based out of Lehighton in Carbon County.

“The motto at PA Outdoor Veterans is that you’re not alone, we stand together — we re-emphasize that idea that a lot of these veterans are not alone in the struggles after war and their service. The affects of war — the stress, the anxiety, the post traumatic stress, the nightmares, the depression, effects from traumatic brain injury (TBI) — are all normal and they have a support network out there to rely on,” Bowman said.

This past weekend, the organization brought the six veterans to the Ponderosa Lodge in Lock Haven. According to Bowman, it was a weekend full of relaxation for vets to get away from their day-to-day stresses. They also brought in an executive chef from Williamsport, Chef Hosch, to do all of the cooking throughout the weekend.

PHOTO PROVIDED A veteran target shoots during his stay at the lodge.

“It was a weekend of brother and sisterhood, comradery and our whole premise of what we do is to prevent veteran suicide,” Bowman said. “We are well aware of what goes on with the trials and tribulations of being a veteran. That is really what the premise of this past weekend was … that camaraderie runs deep.

The weekend retreat was made possible, in-part, through the help of the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Trust Fund and the Donald and Dorothy Stabler Foundation. The PA Veterans’ Trust Fund contributed $23,356 in grant funding for the organization. The Donald and Dorothy Stabler Foundation contributed $50,000 for programs and operations, Bowman said. The foundation has contributed over $100,000 in program support to the veterans’ organization over the last three years, he added.

Through keeping the comradery open and getting veterans outside, the organization helps them realize that they are not alone and help is out there.

PA Outdoor Veterans commits to other programs as well such as other veterans retreat weekends like veteran and spouse retreats, hunting camps and fishing weekends, military family weekends, and more.

“A lot of these families haven’t had these opportunities … It is not just the veteran who we have to remind that they’re not alone,” Bowman said. “When a veteran deploys, so does the family — care givers have to remind them as a well that there is difficulty with deploying and they (the family) feels alone as well even after service.”

PHOTO PROVIDED PA Outdoor Veterans recently held a retreat at Ponderosa Lodge in Clinton County.

According to Bowman, veteran suicide has only gone up in the last decade. Consecutively for the last six years now, veteran suicide has continuously risen, he said.

Bowman formed PA Outdoor Veterans from the perspective of a veteran himself. Everyone involved with the organization is a veteran, he said.

Having served with the 56th Stryker Brigade and deployed to Iraq with the 556 Military Intelligence Company, Bowman knew what it was like as a veteran coming home from war — the trauma and difficulties involved.

“You come home with a fresh set of eyes, you don’t know who to trust, you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t understand it and you tend to feel alone. You don’t know if this is normal. The first thing we have to talk about in all of this — the depression, the anxiety, the nightmares, the effects of PTSD and TBI — that is a normal response to war. They are not alone and that is a message that should be sent loud and clear,” Bowman expressed.

The organization is currently in the works on building a 22,000 square foot facility with 17 rooms for veterans and/or their families to stay at, no questions asked.

“The idea there is to be able to hold retreats for veterans, families and care givers. Ultimately, the biggest premise is that if a veteran needs an opportunity to get away or are having a bad time — maybe their anxiety or depression is up. It is a Thursday night and they want to call for a room, no questions asked. That opportunity is there for them to show up, get a room, go fly fishing, go for a hike, etc.,” Bowman said.

He added they would like to have a wood working and metal shop as a form of therapy on the property.

The organization is continuously growing as awareness is spreading. Bowman has hopes to see retreats and facilities through PA Outdoor Veterans, all across the state it is ranked as having the second largest population of veterans with over 750,000.

“We want them (veterans) to know that they’re not alone and that there is alternative to the idea of suicide,” Bowman said. “It is our mission and it will always be our mission until there are no more veteran and care giver suicides.”

PA Outdoor Veterans welcomes any donors. If anyone would like to donate toward PA Outdoor Veterans, they may send a check to Pennsylvania Outdoor Veterans P.O. Box 274 Lehighton, PA 18235.

Visit their Facebook page or www.paoutdoorveterans.org for more information on the organization.

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