Barry Pettaway, an Army veteran, works with incarcerated veterans at the Douglas County Correctional Center. He recently shared his personal story to show others that with the right opportunities and assistance, a bright future is possible.

I was raised in a good home; however, due to my choices early on in life, I looked for a way to confront my shortcomings. I found solace in drugs and alcohol at the age of 14. I never thought that would be the beginning of decades of addiction.

Like so many others, I joined the Army because I wanted direction in my life. At the time of my enlistment after high school in 1976, I was still running from drug and alcohol use, hoping life in the Army would put me on the path to sobriety.

It was during boot camp that, like so many others, I found purpose, camaraderie, respect and companionship. I finally found a place where I felt that I belonged, felt that I was part of a great big family.

Unfortunately, after boot camp I went back to drugs. I began using again and got caught in the very habit that I joined the service to get away from. For my three years of enlisted service, I lived a life of addiction. After I got married, my addiction extended to heroin, which was in part responsible for our separation. Our failed marriage was mostly due to my many overdoses, blackouts, suicidal thoughts and depression.

I thought my life was over. I had become an embarrassment to my family and to myself. My first marriage ended after 13 years of dysfunctional behavior, and I did not see the point in living any longer. One night, in a state of depression, I asked God if he would help me change my life. With this prayer I began anew.

I found strength through therapy and counseling and achieved sobriety.

After being sober for over seven years, I now work as a jail diversion life coach with the Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska’s At Ease program for veterans at the Douglas County Correctional Center.

My service now includes visiting the jail three times a week to teach 25 to 30 veterans positive and productive life skills. During my visits I teach decision making skills, coping with change, character building, resilience and anger management. In a peer mentor role, I share important life lessons to encourage my fellow veterans to take ownership of their future and responsibility for their actions.

While these lessons are important, the work doesn’t end there. Many veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder related to their service. Building relationships with the incarcerated veterans helps to break down barriers to overcoming trauma.

Those who were released from service with anything other than an honorable discharge cannot receive services from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Lutheran Family Services’ At Ease program fills in the gaps to serve all veterans including their loved ones.

I know what it feels like to be broken and to relapse. I thank God every day for the people who never gave up on me. My experiences have put me in a unique position to support those like me and ensure they know there are people who will not give up on them. LFS At Ease is shining the light on veterans lost in the shadows to help them build brighter futures.

Since 2009, the Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) At Ease program has provided confidential, individualized counseling services and support groups for active military, veterans and their loved ones to treat the effects of trauma, including PTSD. Working in collaboration with At Ease USA, last year LFS helped more than 1,334 active military members, veterans and their loved ones throughout the state of Nebraska, including many with PTSD.

Supporting LFS At Ease means supporting our veterans. Show your support by donating to Lutheran Family Services at www.LFSNeb.org/donate

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