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Continued: Eagle's Healing Nest: Minnesota woman creates oasis for veterans in pain

  • Article by: KIRSTI MAROHN , Associated Press
  • Last update: August 30, 2014 - 12:05 AM

"I was tired of being told by our veterans, by our families, that the resources that are there — they're being told they are full, or they can't get in, or they wait weeks or months for appointments," Butler said. "And they were taking their lives, and their families are being broken apart."

She began to talk to friends and colleagues about starting a small home with eight to 10 beds where veterans could find sanctuary and peace while they healed.

A veteran told her about a former juvenile prison in Sauk Centre on acres of rolling farmland dotted with stately but aging buildings in need of repair. Butler knew as soon as she saw it that it was the right place.

A group had tried to start something for veterans on the property but never got it going.

"People are always looking for that pot of gold, that handout to do something," Butler said. "I said, 'We can't wait for that. We can do this within ourselves.'"

She recruited volunteers, got a bank loan and a donation from an American Legion post. The volunteers started renovating two of the buildings and brought them up to code. Eagle's Healing Nest was born.

A year later, the Nest is home to 47 veterans, with more on a waiting list. They've served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea. Some stay a night or two. Others have been here for months and have no plans to leave.

Some struggle with substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder. Some tried to rejoin civilian society and failed miserably. Some found themselves in legal trouble or left behind troubled marriages.

"You hear that repeatedly, that they come back here, they can't function in the civilian world," Butler said. "They don't know how to act or react in their families."

Many say that without the Nest, they'd be dead. Maybe from alcohol or drugs, maybe by their own hand.

There are no rules about how long a veteran can stay. Butler considers that part of the red tape of insurance policies. Healing doesn't always take place on schedule.

"Some veterans can go years without understanding the negative effect or making the connection or being able to admit that they may have an issue, because they're trained not to do that," she said.

"PTSD is a lifetime. Recovery is a lifetime. They need to have a safe place to continue that."

Instead, the Nest provides layers of services for the veterans. They are offered peer-to-peer discussion groups, substance abuse counseling, art therapy, chiropractic treatment, spirituality and more.

"We give them a loving home, and they create their tactics in their world to complete their mission," Butler said. "There isn't a cure for PTSD. What works for one may not work for others. Some suffer from TBI (traumatic brain injury), some suffer from addiction. There's a whole host of things that they suffer from. We just put the tools in place, and they help each other through all of those issues."

Dianne Gates, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor with Sobriety First, works full time at the Nest. She offers chemical dependency counseling, as well as some mental health treatment, since many of the veterans at the Nest have both chemical dependency and PTSD.

The majority of the chemical dependency cases she sees are veterans who are self-medicating. The problem might have started when they were younger, Gates said. Then when they went to war, "it just kind of exacerbates things."

"And then they come home, and the government says, 'OK, here you go. You're home.' And they go, 'Um, I don't know how to function in this world anymore.' So they teach them a whole different mentality and a different way of survival."

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