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Interview with Lynn and Steve Newsom

Friends Journal interview with Quaker House

Watch our bonus interview with the directors of Quaker House (transcript available below).

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Transcript

Martin: Hello. I am Martin Kelley, senior editor at Friends Journal, and the issue this month is on the Effects of War. It would be hard to talk about Quakers responding to the effects of war without including Quaker House. On the line here is Lynn and Steve Newsom of Quaker House. Quaker House has been going forever it seems, since the ‘70s I suppose, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. They’re right next door to Fort Bragg, and they’ve been doing all sorts of counseling over the years. Welcome here to our author chat.

Lynn: Thank you.

Steve: Thank you.

Martin: Tell us a little bit about Quaker House and where you’ve come from and where you’re currently going.

Lynn: When we first came we realized really quickly what a completely different world we were in, how totally different Fayetteville and Fort Bragg area is from any place we’ve ever lived in.

Steve: Yeah. Well, the culture here is definitely all military. Everybody here is either military, married to military, or retired military it seems like. When we got here back in November of 2012 we realized the handicap parking spaces were full at the shopping center by disabled veterans walking around with artificial limbs and such. That was one of the first shocks. When we were moving to Quaker House, the predecessor Chuck Fager was preparing to move out and he told us we could paint one of the rooms one day, and we went over very early in the morning to the big‐box store area. And while we were over there, it was like 7:00 in the morning and nobody was around. This young woman came walking past our car at the red light and we realized that she was missing—with her odd walk we realized she was missing her leg, and she didn’t have her leg fastened on properly—her artificial one, and she got right abreast of us we realized the other leg was the same condition. This woman was probably in her early 20s, obviously a disabled veteran, and we realized from conversations soon after that that there were up to 400 homeless women in this county, Cumberland County, North Carolina. That was our first shock to the reality of then what Quaker House’s mission is.

Lynn: And then the calls started coming in. We started realizing more and more the pain the people were in. One of our first calls was a man who had killed three civilians in Iraq in an accidental shooting. And he was being questioned about it, and he realized that he just couldn’t live with that. He was asking for us to help him get out of military so he wouldn’t have to be sent back. Cases like this is what led us into the study of moral injury. We were invited by Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock to participate in a special conference that she put on in Raleigh, North Carolina, and we trained with her and started doing presentations on moral injury. And the more we’ve done these presentations, the more mental and physical pain we’ve discovered with people. Vietnam vets will come from the audience and tell us about the difficulties they had. The daughter of a World War II vet was telling us that her father could only talk to her about the problems that they’ve had and the suffering that he’d gone through. So she felt like she suffered moral injury from having listened to his, and actually the knowledge has been spread that PTSD and moral injury are infectious to the family. That the family can also be hurt by these mental problems.

It’s very widespread in the area. Anywhere you go, you’re going to run into soldiers who obviously have PTSD or moral injury. They’re very isolated. They are quick to anger. They have a real difficult time being in crowds. They’re frightened, and it’s constantly in the news, different veterans and soldiers who are caught by surprise and end up shooting and then they put get in jail for that without treatment for PTSD. We just hear one very tragic story after another. It’s very hard. So we’re trying very hard to get the word out about moral injury to the general public and PTSD so the general public is more aware of it, the police are more aware of it, the Veterans Administration and the vet centers are more aware of it. And they thank us and are very grateful that we are trying to get the word out about this and help people. We feel it’s very important for suicide prevention, frankly, because so many of the moral injury victims are liable to commit suicide. So we feel a sense of urgency about getting the word out about this.

Steve: There’s a lot of pain and suffering.

Martin: Yeah. Well, you have sort of a unique role. And Lynn, I don’t know if we’ve mentioned it, you had an article in the January 2014 issue—and we’ll have a link to it in the show notes here—about your path to Quaker House and you talked about how it was this sort of unique place in Fayetteville because there was all these churches, but this was the only place for this. But it’s also somewhat unique among Friends. Friends aren’t talking about working with veterans as much. I was looking back through the Friends Journal archives and we have  many, many articles about the philosophy of war and the effectiveness of wars from an intellectual standpoint. We have articles about protesting and how to organize, but we hadn’t had a lot of articles about how we deal with these wounded soldiers.

Lynn: How we need to help our service members and veterans. I’ve been at Quaker for many, many years now and whenever Veterans Day comes up, somebody in the meeting will stand up and say, “Well, we don’t honor the veterans. We honor the people who make us CEO’s and work for peace.” Well, our feeling is that as long as there are wars, we are responsible for those wars just as much as anyone else in this country, and we are responsible to helping the victims of war. Quakers are great for going overseas and helping, say, the Viet Cong or other people with the needs they have, but they need to look right here in this country at the victims of war that are our own service members and veterans.

So it’s real important to me to get the word out to Quakers that they need to make their meetings veteran‐friendly and also connect with service members. If a service member is having problems and comes back as a veteran and doesn’t know who to go to for help, if he or she has had some contact with Friends while in the service then he or she will know that there might be a Friend here in the United States, at home that could help them and would be wanting to help them heal from their moral injury wounds. There are a lot of things that our meetings could do to help the veterans know that we are veteran‐friendly. We could have writing groups at the meeting, we could have programs  about the problems with moral injury with war. Just so that they know that we want to help our victims.

Steve: They’re always welcome.

Lynn: Yeah.

Martin: Yeah. Another thing, I had a point in my career where I was sort of in between jobs and took on a box store job stacking things, and it was amazing just meeting recently returned veterans and just sort of seeing, this person needs much more help than they’re obviously getting. And other veterans from earlier wars with drug and alcohol problems coming from a local halfway house, and you sort of realize this person is just going to go right back into the rehab house or into jail. I have this Quaker background, I have all these lofty things to say, but I didn’t really have too much I could really offer them, and I certainly didn’t feel like I could just say, “Well, come over with me to the meeting house on Sunday.” I don’t know how they would have responded. Maybe I should have tried. But we also have another article here by Zach Moon, who’s talking about how there are veterans in our meeting houses already and maybe they’re feeling like they can’t share that story, and that’s a place we could build. So is that a way to try to get more veteran‐friendly? Or how can people outside Fayetteville, the different Friends meetings advertise this and start moving towards that?

Lynn: Well as I said, I think if the Quakers can just reach out to veterans groups and let them know that they are welcoming to veterans and have different kinds of supports that veterans can take part in. As I said, the writing groups are—we have mindfulness classes, meditation groups. Veterans that are suffering from moral injury tend to feel as though they don’t fit  into traditional churches because they don’t feel worthy. They feel as though they’re too guilty and God is not going to love them so they don’t feel comfortable in the church. A Quaker meeting is a place where a veteran can sometimes feel more comfortable because they don’t have the traditional church setting and they may not feel as condemned, but it’s so important for us to realize our Quaker meetings need to welcome the veterans. To me, there’s been hostility in Quaker meetings towards veterans. A lot of veterans or military people will leave meetings because they feel this animosity. So we need to change that and welcome them.

Steve: Especially the younger folks. When somebody goes into the army at 18, 17, they’re incredibly naïve. They go in for all of the reasons that the recruiter misled them for and within a couple of years they realize they’ve made a great mistake and hopefully they can get out without a lot of emotional, psychological harm, but quite often they’re very damaged when they come out. They’re good people typically, and I think the psychopaths probably stay in the Army but most of the rest get out. I’m a veteran myself. I’ve never heard a conscientious objection until years after I got out of the Navy in 1975 off active duty and for me it was a slow process coming to Quakerism, but we have here at Quaker House an AA group directed toward veterans.

We have mindfulness classes here once a week and we advertise that to the VA groups around town and the veterans groups and try to encourage people to come to that, and we have things here just for fun. We have a singer coming this Friday and it will be a casual sort of environment. Again, we advertise that to the veterans’ groups and try to get them to show up. Things like that. Activities that they might feel welcome to. And if we go to their groups — like I’m saying, veterans’ groups and such — and say, “Come on, we’re not going to proselytize you. They’ll let you out of the room once you come. But you’re welcome, and please, partake with us.”

Lynn: A lot of service members and veterans, when I talk to them and tell them I’m a Quaker, they’ll automatically feel that I think they’re a horrible person. And so I have to get the message across that yes, Quakers are pacifists, but there’s that of God in everyone and we love them all as children of God, and we also realize that they are victims of our government’s  policies to wage war. None of the soldiers that we’ve dealt with want to be at war. In fact, the military right now is so spent and exhausted from 14 years of war that they will readily tell you that they despise war and want it to be done with.

So, when I get that message across to them I can feel this sort of relief from them and a wanting to open up and be able to share with me their thoughts, which is very good for the moral injury because then they can feel like they are comfortable to share. We had one soldier that—well actually he was a veteran when he got to us—he had been simply lied to by his recruiter, told that he should leave off of his form that he had been a drug addict. So naturally—I shouldn’t say naturally—but he had a relapse. Several relapses.

Steve: When he was under the stresses of Afghanistan.

Lynn: You’re right. Yeah, naturally for sure. They tried to discharge him with less than honorable, which means he wouldn’t have had any medical benefits. He was able to fight it on his own, and after he got out he found out about us. He was like, “I wish that I had found you beforehand,” and he asked to volunteer to help us. Well, it was obvious that he was struggling with the addiction and he was probably going to be—if he hasn’t already relapsed, which I suspected he had, that he was having difficulties. Well, his former first sergeant contacted me and said he was worried about him and said, “What can you do? Can you contact him and let him know that I’m worried about him?”

Steve: He came to Quaker house to talk to us.

Lynn: He came to the house and was sitting in the house in his fatigues and telling us about how upset he was that he has not been able to help this man, and he obviously had a certain moral injury that he had not been able to rescue and save him from going back into relapsing. So he said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for helping.” And I said, “We love you. We’re all God’s children and we love you,” and the first thing I knew he was broken down in sobs. So that’s what Quakers need to be doing. They need to let our veterans know that they are children of God and that we love them.

Steve: And hopefully they’ll stop going to war.

Martin: And hope they stop going to war, right. Stop the cycle. And the cycle then with the children and the wives.

Steve: Yeah, the wives and the children suffer enormously. There’s several books about that. Some of them  written by Quaker women that describe the psychosis that sets in after month of fearing bad news, and the children don’t have their parent there, or sometimes don’t have both parents with them. When a couples joins the army together or meet in the army. So they end up— we have a lot of tear‐filled testimonies from the teenage children, different venues in town and it’s very tragic and sad. Children aren’t as elastic as some people in the army would have you believe.

Lynn: There were six student suicides in Fayetteville this year and five of those were military children. Yeah, they really, really suffer. They’re working hard now. The community that I work with, I am a member of lots of military community alliances for helping with military,  and they’re just now beginning to realize how much they need to work on helping the military children in the schools. And I’m thinking, “My goodness, we’ve been at war for 15 years and you’re just now thinking of this?” So, it’s hopefully better late than never. The school superintendent’s getting to work on it. There was one mother who said her husband had been home for three years of her sons ten years of life, so you know there is a huge amount of suffering going on there.

Steve: Yeah.

Lynn: And these people are in every community. The Reserves and the National Guard soldiers come from the suburbs and their spouses and their children are very isolated, feel like they don’t fit in anywhere. They’re afraid to ask for help, they don’t want to ask for help, so if there are any groups in the city that support military spouses and children, that’s great.  And I have information on all of this. I have a lot of different pamphlets on how to support military spouses, how to support our service members and veterans, how to support the children. So people if people want to contact us I can send them all of these forms, all this information.

Martin: Great. Well, we’ll definitely include a list of how to contact you and forms and any kind of links that you want to share.

Lynn: That’d be great.

Martin: We’ll share them here with a video, and this will also be going off as a podcast so we’ll also have it there in the podcast so people will be able to find out about this. I think we’re sort of running out of time here a little bit, but it’s been so wonderful to hear what you are doing. So Quaker House, what year did it start now again?

Lynn: 1969, and I know this because I was there. I was at Chapel Hill when the service member went up to Chapel Hill Friends Meeting and said, “We need Quakers in Fayetteville.”

Martin: And still going strong there, it’s amazing.

Lynn: We’re needed more than ever. Right now our counselors are absolutely overwhelmed with calls from service members.

Steve: The army is reducing. They just reduced 50,000 last year and they’re talking about another 40,000, and they’re not very subtle about the way they throw these people out of the army.

Lynn: It’s terrible. Soldiers with PTSD are being diagnosed, are being dismissed for misconduct, and it’s happening so much. It’s just awful. And this guys cannot advocate for themselves because they’re so damaged. Luckily our counselors can work with them and help them, and we’re the only game in town. And I try to create alliances and I say, “Is there anybody here that can help soldiers who are being given less than honorable discharges when they actually have PTSD and should be getting honorable discharge with medical benefits?” And nobody.

Steve: Incredibly, we’re the only ones.

Lynn: So if anybody out there wants to be a GI Rights Hotline counselor, let us know.

Steve: Yes, we do need some, actually.

Lynn: We need more.

Martin: Okay, great. Lots of great opportunities here for folks watching the video. So again, thank you Lynn and Steve Newsom from Quaker House, and we’ll have lots of links. Thank you for coming on and we hope to hear more from you over the next 40, 50 years [chuckles].

Lynn: Yeah, at least [laughter].

Steve: Yeah.

Martin: Take care.

Lynn: Thank you.

Steve: You take care too.

Lynn: Bye, bye.

Steve: Bye, bye.


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