Hundreds of NIEHS staff and scientists gathered virtually Nov. 9 to honor America’s service members at the institute’s 2021 Veterans Day Celebration. The event featured two guest speakers from North Carolina-based veteran groups and highlighted ways that NIEHS employees can give back to military members through the Combined Federal Campaign, which supports charities across the country (see sidebar).
“Donning the uniform of an American soldier is about service to our country and something greater than oneself,” said NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., who served as a medical corpsman in the U.S. Navy Reserve early in his career.
NTP Scientific Director Brian Berridge, D.V.M., Ph.D., echoed Woychik’s sentiment.
“I received far more from my time in the service than I gave,” said Berridge, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “I gained a sense of mission, duty, and service that has followed me through every step of my career as both a serviceman and a scientist.”
Building futures, one relationship at a time
Moses Gloria, the event’s first guest speaker, is a medically retired Navy hospital corpsman attached to the U.S. Marine Corps who now serves as an outreach specialist with the Raleigh Vet Center. The organization is part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and helps service members lead healthy lives as civilians.
“Vet Centers are meant to exist in the community, building relationships with local vets and their families,” said Gloria. “Here in Raleigh, our team strives to connect every soldier who walks through our door with the tools they need to be successful while also helping them build quality, peer-to-peer bonds with other vets who understand their problems.”
Like other facilities of its kind, the Raleigh Vet Center provides an array of social and psychological services to eligible veterans, active-duty service members, and their families, such as the following.
- Marital, bereavement, or readjustment counseling for clients experiencing post-traumatic stress.
- Referrals to navigate healthcare, employment searches, or benefits offered through the U.S. Veterans Administration.
- Community engagement to grow the public’s understanding of Vet Center services.
“We also provide grief and bereavement counseling for family members of those who lost their lives while in service,” added Gloria.
All services offered through the Raleigh Vet Center are free for eligible veterans regardless of discharge. Visit the Vet Centers website to learn more.
Meeting service members where they are
The event’s second speaker, Emily Bernson, serves as the Center Operations and Programs Manager at USO North Carolina, part of the United Service Organizations.
Since its founding in 1941, USO has been the nation’s leading charitable organization to serve the men and women in the U.S. military, and their families, throughout their time in uniform.
“It’s important to understand that we’re not affiliated with the U.S. government in any way, nor are we a federal agency,” said Bernson. “We’re a nonprofit organization that solely exists to serve America’s military. This comes from fundraising and partnering with others in the community who are just as passionate about caring for our nation’s service members as we are.”
With six centers statewide, USO North Carolina serves roughly 567,000 troops every year. Among these are four travel-based centers at airports in Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Jacksonville plus two installation-based centers at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
“We aim to meet service members in a place and time where they can respond,” said Bernson. “We throw baby showers, assemble deployment packages, give away service meals. Whatever it takes. We also offer resume workshops and employment services to help veterans transition to civilian life once they’ve left the military.”
Bernson noted that videogaming initiatives have become a critical part of her organization’s strategy, so much so that several gaming facilities have been established in numerous USO centers around the country.
The annual NIEHS Veterans Day Celebration is produced by volunteers across the institute. 2021 planning committee members included Juanita Campbell, Troy Deaton, Allison Eason, Jenn Evans, Mary Jacobson, Leslie Lynch, Carolina Medina, Eli Ney, and Julie Nixon.
(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)