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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Middle East Veterans: Making Peace Within

May 01, 2007 01:00AM
By Lisa Moore

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have bravely died in service to our country. At this time we must also pray for the healing of our veterans returning from the Middle East and help them transition back into civilian life following their intense experiences.

The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs estimates that 19 percent of troops returning from Iraq suffer from mental health issues such as depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to experience these disorders. Living with these conditions frequently leads to substance abuse. This population is also the most susceptible to homelessness and suicide.

The VA, facing financial strain, cannot provide adequate care for all affected by mental health issues. The longer left untreated, the harder it becomes for veterans to recover. If left untreated, veterans may become a social liability and turn to criminal activity or may drop out and become homeless.

One determined mother is committed to helping those returning from combat get the care they need and deserve for their unseen scars. Adamant that her son’s death shall not have been in vain, Nadia McCaffrey founded the Patrick McCaffrey Foundation to promote mental and holistic wellness among veterans returning from war. In Patrick’s memory she is creating Veterans Village – a live-in retreat center in North Carolina for veterans to rebuild and reclaim their lives to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, the father of two young children, spent his final moments trying to help and protect his fellow soldiers and the Iraqi children. He was killed in an ambush near Balad, Iraq in June of 2004. A compassionate human being, Patrick was devoted to his family, country and friends and loved the children of Iraq. Nadia has dedicated her life to building a place she feels Patrick would be proud of.

“We cannot continue to allow these brave soldiers, who were willing to suffer and die for us, to be discarded and treated like this. We can no longer wait for the government to do the right thing by these veterans. We, the grateful, must finally take action,” says Nadia, a nurse and career humanitarian.

Nadia envisions the center as a sanctuary away from distractions and other daily pressures of traumatized vets. The proposed center she hopes to build on 200 acres near Asheville will be a self-sustaining, ecologically-friendly community of energy-efficient domes that will house up to 200 residents. Veterans from any war can visit for free and will help participate in the construction as well as the maintanence of the organic gardens, farm animals and physical grounds.

“We need to function with the earth again, completely from the roots – growing our own food and living in harmony with the earth. The beginning of it all is the connection between the earth and spirit,” says Nadia who has shared her story on CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America and numerous programs and documentaries around the world.

Veterans Village will use alternative methods to treat participants. At the core of the healing program is counseling to address coping mechanisms for living with post-traumatic stress. Wellness activities will center on meditation, yoga, tai chi, horseback riding, swimming and other physical disciplines. The arts, including writing, painting, photography and woodcarving will also serve as healing mediums.

Sgt. Steve Edwards, who served alongside Patrick McCaffrey, acknowledges his difficult transition back into mainstream society. He was given one week between living in a war zone and returning to civilian life. Within six weeks from returning from a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq, Edwards was diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress syndrome. “I was experiencing depression and anxiety and felt very angry. I found myself trying to hold the enormity of my pain and anger inside,” he states.

After attending a Veteran’s Retreat lead by Vietnam Veteran and Buddhist Monk, Claude Anshin, Edwards learned how to accept his feelings and not to suppress or discard them. Awareness and meditation exercises helped him control his anger, anxiety and irritability. “This retreat was definitely the catalyst to the beginning of my healing process and provided me with the tools to learn how to start understanding and accepting the person I had become as a result of my experience in Iraq,” recalls Edwards.

Local chapter houses throughout the country will offer resources to assist veterans in their healing. Former Marine and Iraq veteran Sri Rajagopalan is the project director of the Charlotte chapter. He feels that vets have the ability to positively transform their experiences.

“What I’d like to see from this conflict is for vets to be viewed not as objects of pity, but as healers. I believe those that have experienced the worst have the power to heal within themselves,” says Rajagopalan, a certified Hatha Yoga teacher.

Rajagopalan offers ongoing classes for vets and military members in meditation, relaxation and yoga. “There’s a kind of openness to spirituality now that there never was,” he states, “and yoga is a wonderful healing opportunity.”

Nadia notes that soldiers “left for the war as one person and came back as another.” She is working to raise funds for the project through celebrity benefits, corporate funding and private donations.

“We need to do something. We are their family. We are responsible for them. Each community in this country should be able to donate time and money to help them rebuild their lives,” concludes Nadia.

To learn more about Veterans Village and how you can help make it a reality visit For information on ongoing local events and yoga and meditation classes, contact Sri Rajagopalan at 704-604-0964.

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