On this Veteran’s Day, CPR Health Reporter Eric Whitney brings us a story from Montrose, in the southwestern corner of the state.
The town of 20,000 is inviting veterans to come there, and stay.
People in Montrose recognize they have a great quality of life, and they want to share it with veterans, as a way to say thanks. A new non-profit there is trying to match local peoples’ desire to give, to vets who need housing, jobs, and opportunities to heal.
This is a transcript of Eric’s story.
Reporter: The Uncompahgre river flows pretty steadily all year long. Which is awesome for boaters like 25 year old Jared Bolhuis. Bolhuis is an Afghanistan vet who moved here in June, and is helping the city and county write a grant to turn this little piece of the river in town into a whitewater park.
Bolhuis: This is actually the site where we’re gonna have our brand new, fully adaptive whitewater course. And it’s going to be starting from upriver, right there, there’s a handicapped fishing pier. That’s gonna be the start of the course….”
Reporter: Bolhuis came home from Afghanistan in 2008 with a traumatic brain injury. It ended his military career.
Bolhuis: My entire future was ripped away from me. Everything I had planned on. The world I had planned on seeing. The things I had planned on doing, and all that stuff was gone. And it's devastating.
Reporter: Bolhuis was depressed and at a loss for some time, but then got into awhitewater kayaking class on the Potomac River. That gave him a new purpose - he soon became a kayak instructor for disabled vets.
Bolhuis: And every time I saw a veteran come in on his wheelchair missing his legs, and saying, there's no way I can do that. And we rig up the prosthetics and get him in the boat, and then all the sudden I get hime in the water, and you give me half an hour with him, and he can roll the boat on his own. That look on this face! It's complete revival, it's a complete renewal in spirit, mentality. You can almost see an instant change in that person.
Reporter: Bolhuis thinks Montrose could become a mecca for disabled boaters if it can build its adaptive whitewater park. And he knows its friendly to veterans. A new non-profit veterans assistance program in Montrose actually recruited him.
Klein: I said, get out here, now! (laughs) I don't know what you're doing, but I need your help, because we have this idea, and I think you'd be perfect.
Reporter: Melanie Klein is a local silversmith who happened to see a TV news story about disabled vets in Virginia learning to kayak. Bolhuis was one of the vets. He and others in the story said nature health, and Klein thought, people like that would love Montrose.
Klien: And I thought, well, my God, if this is what heal, helps heal, we have that five minutes in every direction.
Reporter: So Klein started a non-profit called "Welcome Home Montrose" that's matching people who are making offers to help vets who are already here and those who want to come. Things like discounted car repairs and breaks on rent. Some employers are offering internships for vets who might be as adrift as Jared Bolhuis was after having to leave the military.
Edward Lyons moved here in August because Welcome Home Montrose set him up with an internship with a teacher at a local public school.
Lyons: To give me an idea of, is this where I really want to put my heart back into? Like, is this something I could do? And it's been great.
Reporter: Lyons, who's 23, lost his left hand and forearm to an IED in Afghanistan in 2009. He says dealing with that hasn't been nearly as hard as trying to figure out what to do with his life now that he can no longer be a Marine. The internship helps with that, and the mountains help him deal with post traumatic stress disorder.
Lyons: Being out here has helped a lot with that, because I have a way to escaped if I need to. Like, if stuff starts getting too crazy I can just go for a walk, out in the mountains somewhere, and just kind of escape for myself and get away. Escape the chaos.
Reporter: Lyons is one of three vets who moved here this usmmer for internships and discounted housing that Welcome Home Montrose set up.
Lyons: Montrose is kind of being a role model for how every town should treat its veterans.
Reporter: That's Melanie Klein, and Montrose's goal. Local governments have passed resoluttions to make Montrose as veteran-friendly as possible, and are chipping in money to help build the whitewater park. She's hoping veterans' involvement in that will give them a chance to contribute to Montrose, that it, and the town's gratitude, will draw anyone who served in the military, and offer them a place to heal.