The service is also offered weekly for residents of Garrard and Lincoln County, but Tomlian said many aren’t aware of it.
“We are not a part of the hospital system and I think there are a lot of people who don’t know who we are,” he said. “We are unique in what we get to do because we can offer the re-adjustment counseling for veterans, we can work with their families and children and it doesn’t cost a dime.”
For many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the stress of multiple tours of duty in a short time span took a toll that is only now being realized when they come home for good and try to adjust themselves to everyday life.
Josh Barker of Danville, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq from 2003-2007, spoke at length to Tomlian on Friday.
When he left the military, Barker had a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and received treatment for it while living in San Diego. However, after moving to Kentucky, the support hasn’t been as easy to come by and Barker was unaware of the Vet Center’s work outside of the state’s VA medical centers.
“There are so many veterans in San Diego, there are lots of services,” Barker said. “It is more difficult to find a place that you can go (in Kentucky). I didn’t know about this and there are probably a lot of veterans who don’t.”
In 1979, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs started to recognize the large number of people returning from combat in Vietnam and legislation made counseling available. However, PTSD wasn’t an official diagnosis until 1980 and generations of combat veterans were told they were dealing with battle fatigue or other less specific issues.
While Barker was talking to Tomlian on one end of the Vet Center Bus, Sam Bastin of Stanford was also finding out more about the services they offer.
Bastin spent 21 years in the Army, serving in Cold-War era Germany, Korea and Vietnam, and was diagnosed with PTSD years after returning. He said many of his fellow soldiers returned in the 1950s and 1960s with no idea what was affecting them and no one to talk to about it.
“It doesn’t matter if it was World War II, the issues remain the same,” Tomlian said. “It may be PTSD from their combat experience 60-70 years ago. We do see those people and we can offer them help.”
Luncheon organizers said they were eager for the Vet Center to have an opportunity to reach the large number of veterans.
“We are just trying to come up with absolutely any resource we can to make sure they have what they need,” said Sharon Martin, chairwoman of the Heritage Hospice Veterans Committee, which puts on the luncheon.
The event, now in its fourth year, attracted a record crowd of about 1,300 people from Boyle, Lincoln, Mercer and Garrard Counties. This year’s luncheon drew dignitaries such as Brig. Gen. Howard Hunt and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, but the stars of the day became some of the most senior veterans.
Each year organizers have sought to celebrate the oldest veteran with an award, but Friday a call for those who fought in World War II brought a surprisingly large group to the front of the armory stage. Many in the crowd were moved by the site of 38 veterans standing together.
“There are some great men there with some great stories,” said veterans committee member and local veterans advocate Jack Hendricks. “So many of them have passed away and are passing every day. We just need to continue to honor them.”
The oldest veteran in the bunch recognized Friday was Carlton Stull, 96, of Kings Mountain. He was at the luncheon with daughters Peggy Padgett and Doris Phelps, and his wife of 70 years, Flora Stull.
“We are just very, very proud of him,” Phelps said. “It’s a great honor. It’s hard to put into words.”