WATERLOO — Kevin Dill hears the stories. So many they’re sometimes too hard to bear. So many they can bring even a Marine to tears.
Veterans in distress. Veterans hurting from emotional or family issues. Veterans contemplating harming themselves. Veterans just looking for a place to belong.
“For two years I’ve listened to these stories. It just breaks my heart,” said, Dill, a Marine Corps veteran and executive director of the Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Commission. “It’s becoming too overwhelming. Somebody needs to help us. I can’t keep listening to these stories every day with nothing being done.”
His office has assisted more than 5,000 veterans in the past two years. Many are younger veterans — of Iraq, Afghanistan, even the 1991 Persian Gulf War — veterans who typically don’t join traditional veterans posts.
“Our greatest need from all of them is a Veterans Crisis Center/Veterans Center. A place for veterans to go and embrace one another, and if needed, get individual and group counseling,” Dill said.
Black Hawk County is the fourth-largest county in the state in numbers of veterans, but has no such center like many other large counties. Dill has secured the assistance of a counselor with military experience. Now he needs a location.
“I need somebody to provide us with the building or a place that these veterans can turn into their own place where they can take care of each other. I think they deserve that,” Dill said. It also could be a place where veterans with various skills and abilities could mentor young people on selected days.
“This is a place that’s open all day long. And veterans will get this: It’s the ‘day room’ back at the barracks, where veterans can go and just hang out with each other. No membership fees. No alcohol. Some tables and chairs. Maybe a pool table. Maybe a ping-pong table. Maybe some books to read. Just a place for veterans to go and hang out. A stand-alone building or office space that is open for veterans to go to at any time.”
About 40 veterans young and old have been meeting once a month for coffee and camaraderie at a couple of locations. The next event is planned for 9 a.m. Feb. 24 at Clark & Associates, 527 Park Lane. But that’s not permanent, and doesn’t have regular hours.
The need is there, said Marine veterans Kris Jones, who served in the Gulf War, and Joey Nolte, an Iraq war veteran. They’ve helped Dill and personally check on some veterans in stress. They’ve also experienced those feelings themselves.
It would be a place where veterans, when stressed out over situations at home or in other situations, could go and “be away from people, just to relax,” or direct their energies in positive directions.
“It would give us an opportunity to help other veterans, encourage other veterans” who may have a marketable craft or skill, said Jones, who co-organizes the veterans’ coffees.
“You work with each other. You encourage each other. You inspire each other,” Jones said. “And you learn a lot from other veterans. They make you feel comfortable in that setting.”
“Direct their passions into proper channels,” said Nolte, a former bank executive who runs Nolte Outdoor Excursions, providing guided kayaking nature tours for veterans. “I have a stack of guys who want to help,” he said. “... A lot of younger veterans are looking for healthier means to channel their issues.”
“We want to be able to utilize the best of ourselves and give back to the community,” Jones said.
“We want to be able to represent veterans positively in the community,” Nolte said. “After purposefully serving, we want to serve a purpose.”
Dill invited anyone with ideas, resources or space for a veterans center to contact his office at 291-2512.