Hero’s Cafe: A gathering place veterans can call their own

It’s a bond like no other. Veterans will soon have a place in Lynnwood to find the sort of camaraderie they shared while serving their country.

“In the military, you have your battle buddies,” said Gary Walderman, 61, an Air Force veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield in the early 1990s. “In the civilian world, that teamwork might not be as it was in the military. We’re trying to re-establish that kind of fraternity, that special bond.”

Walderman, who lives in south Snohomish County, is active in Lynnwood VFW Post 1040. He is helping launch the Hero’s Cafe, a monthly gathering place for veterans. Along with opportunities for friendship, veterans will find help with VA benefits.

The Hero’s Cafe is scheduled to open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Verdant Community Wellness Center in Lynnwood, and aims to provide that outreach the last Tuesday of every month.

“It’s a gathering place for veterans to come and have camaraderie and friendship, to meet new people and share their stories,” Walderman said. A retired intelligence officer, he was in the Air Force from 1979 through 2000. “If they’re eligible for VA benefits, we’ll have a service officer there to start that process. A lot of older veterans who never got their benefits are now checking into them,” he said.

The Hero’s Cafe is a partnership between the city of Lynnwood and the Verdant Health Commission with the support of local veterans organizations. Those groups include the American Red Cross, Washington State Gold Star Mothers, and area units of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and American Legion. Also involved is the Edmonds Community College Veterans Resource Center, he said.

Walderman and John Beam, commander of Lynnwood VFW Post 1040, said the Hero’s Cafe idea came from a post member who had moved here from Wisconsin, where a similar gathering place was established.

Jerry Gadek is a Veterans Service Officer with Snohomish County Human Services. He spends the first Wednesday of every month at the Verdant Community Wellness Center helping veterans with benefits and other issues. He agrees with Walderman that the loss of camaraderie can be a tough part of the transition to civilian life. “There’s a void, and it’s hard to replicate,” he said.

The notion of a shared mission was one reason service organizations were popular from the 1960s into the 1990s, Gadek said. “Whether it was service to veterans or providing eyeglasses to school-age children, they would work the mission together,” he said.

As changes in technology and other forces cut into time people once devoted to service groups, social interactions fall away. The Hero’s Cafe offers a chance to break through that isolation. “It’s designed to see if we can come up with a better way to interact with today’s generation of military,” Gadek said. In some ways, Vietnam-era veterans and those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan “are all experiencing the same thing,” he said.

Some, Gadek said, are reluctant to seek benefits. Rather than being too proud, “it’s more along the lines of ‘a lot of people I served with need this more than I do,’” Gadek said.

He and Walderman praised Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith and Gina Israel, the city’s intergovernmental liaison, for their efforts in launching the Hero’s Cafe. “It’s wonderful to see, trying to figure out how to get services to people who need it most,” Gadek said.

“Lynnwood is a very veteran-supporting city,” said Walderman, who noted last summer’s opening of Sebastian Place on 196th Street Southwest. A project of Catholic Community Services, the Lynnwood complex provides 20 low-income apartments for veterans.

Also in July, a federal Department of Veterans Affairs report showed that roughly 20 U.S. military veterans commit suicide each day — 7,400 in 2014, the latest year with data available.

“We have to stop that,” said Walderman, who hopes the Hero’s Cafe will be a place where veterans will tell their stories. “You just never know what they’re carrying.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Hero’s Cafe

The new Hero’s Cafe, a monthly gathering for veterans, is scheduled to open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Verdant Community Wellness Center, Cedar Training Room, 4710 196th St. SW, Lynnwood. It will then be open those hours the last Tuesday of each month. The Hero’s Cafe will offer social connections and help with VA benefits.

Veterans Service Officer Jerry Gadek, of the Snohomish County Human Services Department, helps veterans with benefits 8:15 a.m.-4 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at the Verdant Community Wellness Center.

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