Bridging the Gap benefit for veterans
Fundraiser helps vets adjust to post-war life
Keith Laseter, left, of Bridging the Gap in Georgia, a group that helps returning soldiers find emotional help and job security, with Jack Cashin of Chukkar Farm and Polo Club. Jonathan Copsey. (click for larger version)
April 30, 2012MILTON, Ga. — When soldiers go off to fight, they are treated to a fanfare of patriotic fervor. But what happens when they come back?
Keith Laseter, a Gulf War veteran, said real problems can develop that mar the soldier's return to normalcy, and his life is a case-in-point.
When he returned from the war, the Moultrie, Ga., native fell into the trap of substance abuse, abusing alcohol and pain killers.
"After the war, I came back to the United States and felt even more isolated," he said. "I felt the people in my own country could not understand what their soldiers went through during a war. I felt no one cared."
Despite having a successful business in the 1990s, his abuse of drugs led him to multiple arrests, prison time and, eventually, homelessness. He finally went to rehab and has since been clean and sober. He also had a mission in life, to help fellow veterans in the same situation.
"There was no place for me to find help," he said. "I want to make sure others seeking help can find it."
His concern is that, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, those returning soldiers will become just like he was – lost and emotionally scarred, with no one to turn to.
"It's easy to support a veteran who's lost a leg or an arm," Laseter said, "but what about the emotional scars? The scars you can't see?"
To help those who have fought for their country, Laseter began Bridging the Gap of Georgia, a nonprofit that tries to help soldiers find their place in society again.
Laseter said there are more than 8,000 veterans in Georgia, many of whom have problems adjusting to life once they come home from the war zone. Some are injured. Others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and, unable to communicate their troubles, act out with violent behavior or turn to substance abuse – alcohol and drugs. That downward spiral only destroys their homes and their lives, often resulting in homelessness and jail time just like him.
"People look at you like you're a criminal," he said. "We need to stop this kind of stuff."
Through mentoring, counseling and providing a place to live, Bridging the Gap hopes to not only help returning soldiers readjust to life out of the line of fire, but also make themselves useful by getting jobs.
"When you feel abandoned and useless, you give up," he said. "We try to give these guys their self worth back. But it takes a community to do that. Veteran homelessness is something that we should not tolerate as a nation. This is not a government problem, it's a community issue. It is our obligation as a society to come together and knit our communities back together."
Saluting our Heroes
To help with Bridging the Gap of Georgia's message, the organization will have a fundraiser, "Salute to our Heroes," May 27 at Chukkar Farm Polo Club – just in time for Memorial Day.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for our business and community leaders to come together to show love, appreciation and support to our veterans who have sacrificed so much for us," he said.
Jack Cashin, owner of Chukkar Farms and himself a veteran of World War II, said he wanted to do what he could for Laseter and his group.
"Helping soldiers or military people who are socially impaired, I can understand that," Cashin said. "What [Bridging the Gap of Georgia] is doing is unique and focused on a social disorder. They deserve some help."
Beginning at 2 p.m., attendees will be treated to a polo match, an awards ceremony to honor veterans, a dinner prepared by Chef Joshua Hill and Chef Lisa Burkey, owners of A Gourmet Sin Catering, a silent auction, a "Tour of Love" concert by internationally known singer-songwriter Sister Otis and special guest speakers such as local and national politicians.
For more information or to buy tickets, go to www.btg-foundation.org.