TOMAH, WI - When veterans finish their service in the military, the fight isn't over.
Many face new battles like homelessness and mental health challenges.
It's a growing problem leaders in the Coulee Region are coming together to try and solve.
The Tomah VA Hospital hosted its first mental health and homelessness summit on Thursday.
It had representatives from many different groups, including businesses, law enforcement, hospitals and volunteer organizations.21170688
The goal is to join forces and work as a team to help veterans conquer mental health challenges and homelessness.
Jacob Lloyd Mason knows firsthand the struggle many veterans face with mental health and homelessness.
"I planned on being a 20-year enlistment but having to leave the infantry changed everything," said Mason.
Knee surgery forced Mason out of the infantry in the Marine Corps for what would be a rocky transition into civilian life.
"At that point I started drinking heavily and doing drugs when I got out. The drinking started when I was in but it rolled over from there," said Mason. "I also had some mental health issues and those trickled down, too."
After going through treatment at the Tomah VA Hospital he turned his life around and now works at the VA helping homeless vets find jobs.
"Being a veteran I use a different strategy. I use my story and talk to the veterans about steps that need to be done, that I have done, that I feel would be successful for them," said Mason.
Organizers of the summit hopes to make success stories like Mason's more common among veterans.
The summit is the first one of its kind in the area and the second in the nation.
"We all wanted to come together to find if there are ways we can better coordinate to serve veterans and families," said Tomah VA Associate Chief of Staff of Mental Health Dr. David Skripka.
"It's important to get the connection with the community, so both the community and the VA know what resources are available for the veterans," said Mason.
Summit-goers put their heads together to find the gaps in service in the community and try to come up with ways to solve them.
"(We are) Looking for very specific actionable items and one example of that is some of the community members said they'd appreciate having a clear one point of contact to let us know of events that might be available," said Skripka.
While the summit was all talking and planning, Mason hopes it won't stop there.
"I hope we utilize the tools and the resources we got today to help veterans," said Mason.
Another action point organizers talked about was coming up with ways to help veterans get transportation they need to jobs or health care appointments.
Organizers said they hope this is just the first of many meetings.
They said continual dialogue is needed to make sure change happens and veterans are well-served.
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